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Spotlight on Suhana

If you ask an animal care professional who their favorite animal is, most of the time they will hem and haw and tell you that they love all of the animals in their care. That’s true, but if we’re being completely honest, there’s almost always a certain individual or species that holds the biggest pieces of our hearts. Anyone who knows me will not be shocked to hear that for me, it’s the cats. All of them. Every species. I am an animal keeper today because of my love for the big cats. Truthfully, the ranking of species or individuals has changed over the years and in different settings, but the number one animal in my heart is always a cat.

Three years ago, Zoo Atlanta welcomed a new animal into the family; a species that had previously been represented here by another fabulous feline but that had been absent for a couple of years. Suhana, our little female clouded leopard, came to us from Zoo Miami when she was just under a year old. She was shy and scared and elusive, slinking off to the farthest reaches of her habitat any time a keeper approached her. Part of this was due to her being young, recently separated from her mother and littermate, and in a new environment with new people. However, clouded leopards are also naturally elusive and secretive animals, avoiding human activity as much as possible. Their populations in the wild are considered to be vulnerable, with numbers most likely under 10,000 individuals, but no one really knows exactly how many there are because of their elusive nature. In fact, most of the information that is known about clouded leopard behavior has been gathered by observing the animals in zoos!

Classification of clouded leopards can be a bit tricky as well, as they share some of the same traits and characteristics of both large and small cats. Some of my favorite fun facts about clouded leopards? Their canine teeth are the longest of any in the cat family in comparison to their skull size. (If you ever catch a glimpse of Suhana yawning you will be amazed by those impressive chompers!) They are arboreal and extremely talented climbers and actually can climb down trees headfirst by rotating their rear ankles 180 degrees. They also have one of the most fun to say scientific names: Neofelis nebulosa. Try it out for yourself. It’s fun!

Now, as I mentioned above, our own little cloudie, Suhana, was extremely shy when she first arrived at Zoo Atlanta. It took us keepers several months and lots of patience to have her first, not run in the opposite direction, and then second, actually approach us on her own. Three years later you’d almost think she was a different cat. She is still wary of new people or groups, but for the most part she really has become quite social. And vocal! She both meows like a small cat and chuffs like a big cat. I *might* have been the first keeper to hear her chuff (a friendly, affiliative vocalization), and she has absolutely stolen my heart. She’s sweet and sassy and loves to chase the broom on the outside of her habitat but ignores enrichment toys given to her. She apparently loves holidays, though, as she is quite fond of the pumpkins and Christmas trees she receives!

Next time you visit the Zoo, take a few minutes to spot this beautiful lady in her habitat. She’s not fond of the cold weather, so if it’s chilly she may have access to her indoor area, but she tends to be a bit more active early in the morning and later in the afternoon. And if you see me in the area feel free to ask me any questions you may have about her. Just be prepared to hear me wax poetic about my favorite little lady! (Just please don’t tell Chelsea…)
Erin Day
Keeper II, Mammals

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