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Draper Journal

Otter triplets and clouded leopard celebrate birthdays at Loveland Living Planet Aquarium

Mar 28, 2022 10:19PM ● By Dylan Wilcox

Rhubarb, a female clouded leopard, enjoys a cake made of ice and fish at Loveland Aquarium for her eighth birthday March 14. (Loveland Aquarium)

By Dylan Wilcox | [email protected]

Loveland Living Planet Aquarium invited guests to a series of birthdays at the animal sanctuary for Rhubarb, a clouded leopard as she celebrated her eighth birthday March 14 as well as a trio of otters: Oscar, Oliver and Otis on March 5.

Rhubarb arrived at Loveland Aquarium in May 2016 by way of Houston, Texas as part of a comprehensive species survival plan at the aquarium which is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Rhubarb was born in Denver, Colorado and eventually was paired with Koshi, a male clouded leopard. The pair were then placed together at Loveland Aquarium with the hopes of conserving the vulnerable species in captivity.

Laura Shipp, a keeper at the aquarium, says the leopard’s offspring can be part of a reintroduction program to help rise the low population of clouded leopards which is estimated to be around 5,500 in the wild.

“Having the leopards here contributes to our genetic library, to help rebuild the species if we needed to,” Shipp said. “Because they are not extinct in the wild yet, we can inspire people to save that environment that they live in and educate people about the need to save these animals.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services classifies clouded leopards as endangered.

According to Shipp, clouded leopards are elusive and hard to study in the wild. The aquarium has replicated a wild setting for their habitats by utilizing enrichment programs by encouraging the animals to work for their food through stalking or using obstacles which requires them to use their natural skills. By using these methods, the animals are able to reinforce their natural instincts. “It has only been in the past 20 years that we’ve been able to study their life habits,” Shipp said. “There’s so much we still don’t know about them.”

The aquarium answered questions from guests about the leopard and even had activities for kids so they can learn about what makes the clouded leopard so vulnerable. One major factor is the leopard’s habitat, which is found in Southeast Asia. Conservationists encourage people to purchase only certified sustainable wood products that do not contribute to the destruction of rainforests. Another factor that affects the clouded leopard population is the human consumption of palm oil.

“The production of palm oil for use in food, cosmetics, and household products is causing a rapid loss of tropical rainforest,” an informative sign at the leopard’s habitat states. “Purchasing products made with sustainable palm oil can greatly reduce the impact on clouded leopard habitat. Sustainable palm oil plantations are established on land that does not contain significant biodiversity or wildlife habitat.”

A triplet of North American river otters, Oscar, Oliver, and Otis, also celebrated their birthday earlier this month. Karmel Harper, associate director of public relations and marketing, said the aquarium got the idea of celebrating animals’ birthdays from a guest who made the suggestion.

“We got a letter from one of our little guests who said we should celebrate more animal birthdays,” Harper said. Harper ensured that the animals get “restaurant-quality food” as evidenced by the otters’ cake which was made of ice and frosting consisted of blended shrimp. Rhubarb’s cake was an ice cake made with fish. While the aquarium does its best to recognize all their animals, Harper admits it’s difficult to do so for the over 4,500 wild residents of the center.

“One of our biggest missions is to invite the public to come and learn more about the conservation of these animals,” Harper said.

Shipp, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology and has been a keeper for several years, said that everyone at the aquarium does a wonderful job in taking care of the vast array of animals there.

“I think that one important piece for the public to understand about animals, zoos and aquariums is the amount of effort that is put into these animals’ welfare. Their food is restaurant quality—they eat better than me, for sure,” she said. The aquarium also has an on call vet who is there to care for the animals at any time and great effort has been made to ensure that the animals are stimulated mentally and physically in the most ethical way possible.

Shipp says that even though not much is known about clouded leopards, she is confident she has made a bond with the animals. “It’s really cool to get people to learn about them, and we hope people will use their purchasing power to help these cats,” Shipp said. “The goal is to touch as many people as we can.”

Since she was born on March 14, which is Pi Day and Albert Einstein’s birthday, Rhubarb, aka Rhu, was named after Einstein’s favorite pie.