Clouded leopard Tai-Wada is a new arrival at Howletts. Picture: Dave Rolfe.
by Adam Williams
Clouded leopards have crossed the Pond to be the newest arrivals at Howletts Wild Animal Park.
Tai-Wada, which is Thai for Angel, has arrived from the National Zoo in Washington DC in time for his first birthday on Valentine’s Day with mate Matsi, who celebrates her first birthday in May.
Head cat keeper Jim Vassie is delighted to welcome the cubs to the park.
He said: “It’s very important to us they bond and go on to breed. We’re hoping Tai-Wada’s special date of birth is a good sign.
"But his favourite food, dead rats, won’t be many people’s choice of romantic meal this Valentine’s.”
Clouded leopards are in decline in their Asian homelands due to high rates of deforestation and continued hunting for their pelts.
Breeding in captivity is difficult for them and Howletts and sister park Port Lympne, have a successful track record for doing so.
The parks are the largest breeders of clouded leopards in the UK, with the most recent birth at Port Lympne in August.
Keeper Ben Warren hopes they can build on the success.
He said: “These two leopards are incredibly important to us and the species.
"They’re a completely new genetic bloodline for us, meaning we can breed viable leopards to be released into protected areas of their native homeland.
“The cubs were both born in America where they were bottle raised by humans.
"They took no time at all to settle in to their new enclosure and showed great affection towards us by head rubbing and jumping all over us to play.
“Despite being a little bit older and bigger, weighing about 17kg, Tai-Wada likes to jump onto your shoulders so he can lick your face and hair, while Matsi tries to play with him, feeling slightly left out.”