WASHINGTON - The National Zoo has no shortage of cute animals, and now it is welcoming an elusive species that is as adorable as it is hard to understand.
Meet the zoo's newest members: a pair of Asian fishing cats recently born to 7- year-old Electra and 2-year-old Lek, who can be seen on the Asia Trail.
The kittens were born May 18, and provide an important insight into the species' breeding and behavioral patterns, researchers say. The pair is also the first to have been successfully bred at the National Zoo.
"Many months of behavior watch, introductions and research allowed us to get to this point," National Zoo Director Dennis Kelly says in a statement. "The future of their wild cousins hangs in the balance, so it's imperative that we do all we can to ensure their survival."
Fishing cats are disappearing from their native habitats along riverbanks in India and Southeast Asia due to water pollution, poaching and shrimp farming, the National Zoo says. Wild populations have decreased by about 50 percent in the last 18 years, and they are now considered endangered.
The zoo has three adult fishing cats. They are taking part in a study to examine the pros and cons of introducing a potential breeding pair. Stress and hormones are just two of the factors researchers are considering when it comes to picking mates.
In the mean time, the kittens will receive their first set of vaccines in coming weeks, and remain in observation as they grow and become more independent.
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