Nature

Clouded Leopard Cubs at the National Zoo

1/125 sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500 Daylight White balance

The Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington D.C. is now home to two new Clouded Leopard cubs and have been on display since late September, 2019. Luckily a friend of mine wanted to go and visit them and off to Washington we went.

While they have limited time in the sheltered habitat, we arrived just as they had been turned out and they were quite active during our hour long visit. They are the cutest little cats that were born in early spring, but are not siblings. Both born in the Nashville Zoo, the male – Paitoon and the female Jilian are on display from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m

The Clouded Leopard is native of east Asia and the species is considered vulnerable for conservation as there are less than 10,000 in the world. Of those, only 70 are in captivity and breeding them is quite difficult due to aggression between the mating pair that frequently leads to the demise of the female. New efforts for breeding now introduce mating pairs while they are less than a year old to improve compatibility. Paitoon and Jilian will not be bred together as their genetic lines aren’t considered compatible for conservation objectives.

Even though the species has protections, they are threatened to be endangered due to loss of habitat and poaching for their pelts. And even more shocking, Clouded leopard meat has been seen on exclusive restaurants in China and Thailand.

To say that was a tough photo shoot could be an understatement. I took over 800 images in a short time just to make sure I had at least a few images to work with when I returned home. With dappled sunlight and shady areas and a very challenging fence that you had to photograph through, getting a sharp image was tough. I had to use ISO settings much higher than I prefer to work with and resulting low shutter speeds due to the low light.

Jilian and Paitoon

These cats have large paws that have the unique ability to turn them to maneuver on tree branches with articulating anklebones. One of them would jump on the thin limbs of the branch and just hang there, then the other one would jump on, and of course miss..and fall to the ground.

1/125 sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500 at 400mm

Using spot metering and my center focus point selected, I tried my best to pin my focus point between the fence and hope for a clear shot in the very busy habitat. Sometimes the cats would come right up to the fence and begin to climb on it. Way too close for my 100-400mm lens.

Which I was able to get a semblance of focus, even with my Canon 5D Mark IV, ISO settings of 4000 and 2500 was noisy and lacked clarity. After importing the images into Lightroom with my basic edits, I then transferred them to Topaz Studio and used AI Clear for noise reduction and adding clarity.

1/400 sec, f/5.6, ISO 4000. Topaz Studio AI Clear applied

It was such a great outing spending time with the Clouded leopard cubs and I could have spent all day watching them run about chasing and bounding about on the tree limbs. If you’re in the area, I hope you get a chance to see them as they are pretty darned special.

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