Three clouded leopard cubs born at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium on March 30 are creating quite an uproar.
The cubs made their public debut on Friday, April 22, to much fanfare, as the zoo made two of their daily feedings open for observation to the public. Visitors can now observe the cubs’ 10:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. feeding times, seven days a week.
Lexii Rosecrans, who was at the zoo on April 28 to watch the cubs enjoy their liquid lunch, was eager to see them in person. “They’re adorable and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said, excited.
At the feeding we attended, a large crowd gathered eagerly to watch Andy Goldfarb, staff biologist, and two other staff members bottle-feed the three hungry cubs. Goldfarb is one of a group of eight staff members, plus a veterinary team, that cares for the spotted siblings.
While most visitors are interested in seeing the unbelievably cute cubs in person, they are unaware of the amount of work that goes into caring for the lovable triplets. Goldfarb, an expert on clouded leopards, spoke with us about proper cub care, conservation of the species, and what led him to his current career.
Goldfarb always knew he wanted to work with animals. As a kid in San Diego, he would constantly ask to be taken to the zoo so that he could see the big cats, he recalls. He also shares one of his mother’s favorite stories about her son’s love of animals:
“There was this wicked Siamese cat in our neighborhood and I would spend days and days and days with it; the cat liked me and no one else,” shares Goldfarb.
Now he has been working with animals for over 30 years, and when he speaks, it is obvious that he has loved every single minute of it.
“Clouded leopards can climb up a tree in seconds, have very big teeth, and like to climb and jump,” he says, before explaining how most of his shirts have holes and tears from the cats climbing all over him.
“They’re not small cats,” he says, referring to a common misconception. “They’re like a fun-size tiger.”
Goldfarb says clouded leopards are hard to raise. They don’t do well unless they are hand-raised because the normally shy animals need to be socialized, especially since they might end up in another facility.
“You have to take it slow with young cubs,” Goldfarb says. “It is very common to overfeed them. People want to feed and feed and feed them.”
Goldfarb says the cubs, which were only recently able to open their eyes, are already starting to show their personalities. “The girl, she’s a tough one,” he shares. “But she has to be. I’ve noticed that with the past couple of litters, the girls are outnumbered, so they have to defend themselves against the boys.”
Once the cubs are done feeding, they are each returned to their individual crates, which are just like the crates people use at home for their dogs or cats. We asked the biologist why the cubs are separated.
“They were always sucking on each other’s tails, and I didn’t want them to lose their hair,” he replies. “But they do spend a lot of time together,” he adds.
The cubs are the offspring of mother Sang Dao and father Tien, who was also born at Point Defiance Zoo. The litter was part of the Association of Zoos’ and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan managed breeding program. With the birth of the cubs, there are now 12 clouded leopards living at the Point Defiance Zoo.
Due to poaching and habitat destruction, the species is in danger. Karen Povey, the zoo’s education curator and another clouded leopard expert, fights the good fight along with Goldfarb to raise awareness and ensure the survival of the species. She travels to Southeast Asia to educate children about clouded leopards and the dangers they face in the wild and was one of the founders of the Clouded Leopard Project, which aids in conservation of the species and its habitat.
If you would like to contribute to conservation programs, you can do so through the donation kiosk at the Zoo’s Cats of the Canopy exhibit or through the Zoo Society.
Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
5400 N. Pearl St.
Tacoma, WA 98407