Endangered Fishing Cats Born at National Zoo

Fishing Cat Kittens
Credit: Courtney Janney, Smithsonian's National Zoo
Two recent -- and extremely rare -- additions at the National Zoo cuddle close.

The Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C., welcomed two eagerly anticipated newcomers last month. The zoo's 7-year-old fishing cat, Electra, gave birth to two kittens, an event made all the more special by the fact that this was the first time fishing cats have bred and produced young at the National Zoo.

The kittens were born in an off-exhibit den and will not be on public display until later this summer in order to give the first-time mom and her kittens a chance to bond.

This wasn't the first time the National Zoo tried to find a suitor for Electra. Before coupling up with the kittens' father, Lek, Electra was introduced to another male, but he and Electra never clicked. Electra and Lek, however, began showing affection shortly after his arrival in January 2011. The rest is adorable, adorable history.

Fishing Cat Mama
Credit: Courtney Janney, Smithsonian's National Zoo
Electra's maternal instincts kicked in immediately. She lets her kittens explore a little, but doesn't let them get too far from her just yet.

Fishing cats, so named for their hunting technique, live on riverbanks in India and Southeast Asia, but are disappearing from their native habitat due to water pollution. The wild population of this elusive species has declined by a whopping 50 percent in the last 18 years, earning fishing cats a spot on the endangered species list.

The National Zoo is one of only two facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to have successfully bred fishing cats in the last three years, but this recent birth gives experts hope. Not only will it provide more information about introduction techniques and personalities as they relate to reproductive success, but these adorable kittens will also introduce much-needed genetic variation into the breeding program once they come of age.

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