The newest arrival to Fort Wayne Children's Zoo can't change his spots – not that anyone would want him to.
He's a 10-month-old clouded leopard named Sanji, who comes to the zoo with the hope he'll prowl his way into the heart of the zoo's resident female clouded leopard, Raury, and multiply their spots.
Clouded leopards, which live in Southeast Asia including the islands of Sumatra, Borneo and Java, have been on an international list that classifies them as vulnerable to extinction since 2008.
Sanji has been living at the Pittsburgh Zoo in Pennsylvania, said Bonnie Kemp, the Fort Wayne zoo's spokeswoman. He was born Nov. 27.
“We are hoping the two get along and can be recommended by the American Zoological Association's Clouded Leopard Species Survival Plan to be a breeding pair in the future,” she said.
Sanji should double his 30-pound weight when he's fully grown in the next year, Kemp said, adding male clouded leopards can grow to be twice as big as females.
Biologists at the Clouded Leopard Project conservation group say clouded leopards are forest dwellers who are secretive and rare in the wild, preferring to remain alone and hidden from view. They spend much of their time in trees.
“Because of this, studying them is a unique challenge,” the scientists said, saying we know much of what we do about the species from watching the cats in captivity.
There are two species of clouded leopards, considered medium-sized big cats, and they are more closely related to larger cats – lions, tigers and jaguars – than they are to smaller cats, according to project scientists. The two species are thought to have diverged 1.5 million years ago.
“Clouded leopards are among the best climbers in the cat family. They are able to climb upside down underneath tree branches, hang from branches with their hind feet, and even descend head first, like a squirrel,” a Clouded Leopard Project description says.
The creatures are under threat from illegal poaching and habitat loss as tropical forests are cut down, local zoo officials say.
Sanji is described by local zookeepers as a social animal who loves hanging around water. They hope to acclimate him “behind the scenes” to his new surroundings and potential love interest, said Amber Eagleson, curator of the African Journey and Indonesian Rain Forest exhibit areas.
“Until their introductions are complete, guests will be able to see and enjoy one of them on exhibit” at a time, she said.
The zoo is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Oct. 30.