Photos and video: Denver Zoo hand-raising twin clouded leopard cubs born this month

This is why the Internet was invented: To post effing adorable photos of baby kitt-ehs or, in this case, two tiny clouded leopard cubs born at the Denver Zoo earlier this month. The unnamed cubs -- one male and one female -- were born to mom Lisu and dad Taji on March 14. But first-time mother Lisu, who was hand-raised as a cub, didn't quite possess the instincts to rear her young, so zookeepers stepped in to provide the babies with food and medicine every three hours. Continue reading to see more heart-melting photos and a video of the cubs napping in an incubator.

Here's more info, courtesy of the Denver Zoo.

The cubs are not only the first births for Lisu but also for her mate, Taji (TAH-jee). Lisu was born at Nashville Zoo in March 2011 and came to Denver Zoo that following November. Taji was born at Tacoma, Washington's Point Defiance Zoo in June 2011 and also arrived that November. The two were paired under recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals. Fortunately, the couple has proved to be an excellent match.

(For more on how animals are paired, check out our feature, "Beauty of the Beasts.")

Despite their name, clouded leopards are not actually a species of leopard. Because they are so unique they are placed in their own genus, Neofelis, which is a combination of Greek and Latin words meaning "new cat." They are considered a "bridge" between typical big cats, like lions and tigers, and the small cats, like pumas, lynx and ocelots. Their body lengths can range from about two to almost four feet long and they can weigh between 24 and 50 pounds. Their tawny coats with distinctive "cloud-shaped" dark blotches provide excellent camouflage in their forest habitat, enabling them to stalk prey and also hide from potential predators.

Clouded leopards are well adapted for living in the trees. Their short, flexible legs, large feet and sharp, retractable claws make them adept in the trees. They can descend head first down tree trunks, move along branches while hanging upside down and even hang from branches using only their hind feet enabling them to drop down and ambush prey on the ground. Their long tails provides balance as they leap from branch to branch. Their arboreal lifestyle also provides protection from larger predators like tigers and leopards.

They are found in Southeast Asia in southern China, parts of Nepal, India, Burma and from Indochina to Sumatra and Borneo, and live primarily in tropical and subtropical evergreen forests up to 6,500 feet above sea level.

There are no reliable estimates for clouded leopard populations in the wild, but their numbers are thought to be in decline and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies them as "vulnerable." Clouded leopards are endangered primarily due to habitat loss due to deforestation for agriculture. They are also hunted for their beautiful pelts and their bones, claws and teeth are used in traditional Asian medicine.

Clouded leopards returned as a species to Denver Zoo in 2011 after a four-year absence, partly through a generous donation from David and Carla Crane in honor of David's mother, Peggy Crane Epand. Guests can see the Zoo's clouded leopards under the Betty Robertson Leopard View, a shade structure outside the exhibit.

Watch a video of the cubs below.

More from our News archive: "Photos: Lion cubs, baby Komodo dragons are fruits of Denver Zoo matchmaking labor."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar