Endangered Clouded Leopard Cubs Born At Panther Ridge

Clouded leopard cub Peach, born in February, will be a permanent resident at Panther Ridge.

The Panther Ridge Conservation Center in Loxahatchee Groves has been a part of the vital species survival plan (SSP) for Sunda clouded leopards for just over five years, and its successful contributions to this unique leopard species is making a difference. The facility recently had two successful litters born to their resident leopards — a single female named Peach born on Feb. 7, and a second litter of three kittens born on April 5.

“Peach will live the rest of her life with us. We’re currently in the process of finding a genetically unrelated male for her,” Panther Ridge Head Keeper Sadie Ryan said. “We might be keeping one of the females from the younger litter as well to make a trio. Once genetic matches have been made for the little ones, they will transfer to their new zoos, with all their shots once fully weaned.”

Panther Ridge now proudly houses 10 different species of exotic cats and 26 individual, non-releasable animals. But raising cubs is no easy task, and often captive mammals don’t know the first thing about caring for their young.

“We would prefer for their mothers to nurse and care for them, but when that can’t be the case, we will step in for the cubs’ safety,” Ryan explained. “When they are first born, the feedings are every three hours, which makes for many sleepless nights for me! They get a special milk formulated for their specific species, which has the appropriate fat and protein levels in it, and, of course, they get checked out by our vet right away to ensure they are in perfect health.”

These new babies are vitally important to the survival of the species in the wild, too, allowing for scientific research and conservation education efforts to continue. This is why the Panther Ridge staff members are so careful with all their cats, but particularly the newborns.

“Without mom’s colostrum, the cubs have weakened immune systems. Therefore, we keep them in a bubble for their first month,” Ryan said. “A bubble essentially meaning completely sanitary conditions and only handling with gloves. This helps prevent any kind of viruses or illnesses they could develop.”

The more than 450 SSPs in place around the world make sure that specific captive endangered species are closely monitored genetically to keep the population healthy. Projects like this have not only protected a species’ overall survival, but even resulted in the return of numbers in wild populations, such as with the California condor.

According to a recent study conducted by Brigham Young University and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, “the Sunda clouded leopard and the Mainland clouded leopard are on the endangered species list, with global populations of roughly 5,000 each. Like so many other apex predators, global populations of clouded leopards are declining due to habitat destruction, poachers and other threats.”

These solitary big cats are so rare that very few people have seen them in person, and very few facilities around the world even house “cloudies,” so having them here locally at Panther Ridge is a wonderful and unique opportunity for locals and tourists alike. According to the December 2020 census of federally regulated big cat populations in the United States, there were only 124 clouded leopards in captivity.

Panther Ridge, located at 2143 D Road, is open to the public with daily guided tours by appointment. Special programs, such as cheetah walks or big cat and small cat experiences, are also available. In October, Panther Ridge will bring back its Twilight Hours program, where guests can see the cats at night when the weather cools. For more information, visit www.pantherridge.org.