NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Nashville Zoo welcomed a tiny, spotted ball of fur earlier this month with the birth of a new clouded leopard cub.

While the tiny cub, weighing in at just under a half pound and about 8 inches long, may look like a typical kitten, it is among one of the rarest cat species in the world. The cub is the 43rd to be born at the Nashville Zoo since 2009 and the second litter for mated pair Niran and Ron.

According to the Zoo, the new cub is currently living behind the scenes but can be seen in the coming weeks at the Nashville Zoo’s HCA Healthcare Veterinary Center. Eventually, the cub will join three others that were brought to the Zoo in August.

A male came from the Oklahoma City Zoo and two females were received from a private source.

As a national leader in clouded leopard breeding programs, the Zoo was chosen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Clouded Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP) to oversee the upbringing and eventual pairing of all four cubs.

“We are thrilled to introduce these genetically diverse cubs to each other early in their lives,” said Nashville Zoo’s Director of Veterinary Services Heather Schwartz. “They will stay in the nursery until they are old enough to be paired and moved to larger habitats here at the Zoo.”

The Nashville Zoo has been breeding and raising clouded leopard cubs since 1991. Precise data on clouded leopard populations is unknown due to their elusive nature, but it’s estimated that there are only around 10,000 clouded leopards left in the wild.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), deforestation, poaching and the pet trade have all led the species to be considered vulnerable to extinction. Breeding programs like the Zoo’s aim to one day help reinforce wild populations.

The Nashville Zoo has also learned more about the species in that time. Specifically, that hand-raising allows the normally nervous cats to become more acclimated to sights and sounds of human interaction, typical in an exhibit environment.

This knowledge of clouded leopards has spread across the nation, with the AZA’s SSP now recommending hand-rearing for all clouded leopard cubs. In addition, hand-raising allows the Zoo to introduce the cubs at a very early age, which can be beneficial for the mating process.

“Clouded leopard males can be very aggressive when they are introduced to females,” said Nashville Zoo President and CEO Rick Schwartz. “This can cause serious, even lethal injury to the females. Allowing the cubs to grow up together lowers aggression and increases the chance of successful mating.” 

Click here to watch the new cub and others play on News 2’s Nashville Zoo nursey cam.