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Cute Clouded Leopard Born at Florida Zoo

Mar 18, 2015 05:03 PM EDT

An endangered clouded leopard was just born at a zoo in Florida, and it just might be the cutest thing you've ever seen.

Officials at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo say the 1.2-pound male kitten, born March 7, is just starting to open its eyes and be bottle-fed by animal care staff (you can see an adorable video of that here). The little tyke won't be able to walk on his own for a few more weeks, and will be hand-reared by zoo staff until 3 months of age, but the newborn provides a hopeful outlook for the recovery of this vulnerable species.

"This birth signifies a milestone accomplishment in our conservation programs at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo," Dr. Larry Killmar, VP of animal science and conservation, told WFTS. "Species survival programs for animals like clouded leopards take years of planning, development and staff commitment. This kitten will contribute to the long-term viability of our conservation efforts within the managed population, as well as range countries."

Clouded leopards, named for their spotted coat, are native to Southeast Asia, roaming the rain forests of Indonesia to the foothills of the Nepali Himalayas. Though scientists aren't exactly sure how many of these big cats exist in the wild, they are considered vulnerable species by the IUCN Red List.

Along with hunting and poaching, habitat loss has put them at risk of extinction, with the forests they depend on for survival undergoing the world's fastest regional deforestation.

With this new kitten's birth, there are now a total of 87 clouded leopards in Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited institutions, ABC News reported.

Zoo officials also hailed the unnamed newborn as the first kitten born to its pair of 4-year-old clouded leopards. Mom and dad, respectively named "Yim" and "Malee," were brought to Lowry Park Zoo in 2011 and paired together as potential mates under a program aimed at conserving clouded leopards.

The park says this offspring introduces new genetics into the managed population in North America.

But this isn't the only success story of clouded leopards in captivity. Back in September, Nature World News reported of two cubs, named Koshi and Senja, that were born at the Houston Zoo. They made headlines and stole the hearts of many after photos of them playing in the grass were released before their public debut.

Scientists are not sure exactly how clouded leopards act in the wild. According to National Geographic, they are probably solitary animals, like most cats. Females give birth to a litter of one to five cubs every year, and the young leopards remain dependent upon their mother for about 10 months.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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