A cuteness overload is currently being experienced at Nashville Zoo, with the arrival of a Clouded Leopard cub. This is no ordinary birth, however, as scientifically-speaking, this is a major breakthrough for the rare and vulnerable species. According to a report by News Channel 5, representatives of the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute – working with the zoo on the breakthrough – say the clouded leopard is among the rarest of cat species in the world and is notoriously difficult to breed in captivity.

Artificial insemination produces a rare clouded leopard cub

The newly arrived cub, born on March 1, is the first of its kind to be born via an artificial insemination procedure. Reportedly part of the efforts of Nashville Zoo and the Smithsonian to protect the species, cryopreserved (frozen) semen was taken from Hannibal, a male clouded leopard living at the National Zoo. According to Live Science, scientists used hormones to induce the cub’s mother, Tula’s ovulation and the resulting eggs were then fertilized with Hannibal’s thawed out semen, resulting in the birth of the new, currently unnamed, male cub. Heather Robertson from Nashville Zoo said in a statement that this was a great accomplishment both for the zoo and also for the Smithsonian team.

Robertson continued by saying this means they can now collect semen from other clouded leopard populations worldwide to improve the pregnancy outcomes of the rare breed, using artificial insemination.

Clouded leopard populations are shrinking

While due to the elusive nature of the animals, it is difficult to judge how many are still living in the wild, experts do say the population is shrinking and they speculate there are probably less than 10,000 worldwide.

Reportedly, despite their name, the cats are not actually part of the leopard species and belong to the genus Neofelis. The animals are smaller than the average leopard and according to the Smithsonian, clouded leopards bridge the gap between the big cats and the smaller cats, like the lynx.

Newly born cub undergoing training

To get the new cub used to hands-on care at the Nashville Zoo, keepers have been teaching him how to raise his paws, an action which reportedly lowers the animal’s stress when born and raised in a zoo. News Channel 5 reports the cub weighed less than half a pound when he was born and is currently being kept in an incubator. Reportedly zoo keepers feed him every three hours. Some more cute images of the adorable cub are included below.