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Building clouded leopard enclosures… out of electricity poles

Posted on 21 April 2015 04:21 PM by Saund2M

Tucked away in the Kent countryside is a wildlife success story of international importance – so when we were asked to help out with an unusual request we leapt at the chance.

Howletts Wild Animal Park, part of the Aspinall Foundation, in Bekesbourne, near Canterbury, is home to 24 clouded leopards and its breeding programme is the most successful in Europe.

It is doing so well that new construction materials are urgently needed to build extra enclosures for breeding pairs, which need their own enclosures. That’s where we were able to step in.

Carnivore keeper, Stuart Robertson, got in touch with us after spotting some redundant electricity poles at a local depot. Occasionally we are asked to donate surplus electricity poles to good causes, but this has got to be the most unusual request we’ve ever received.

I helped the project by making arrangements for the pole deliveries, and it was certainly a different venue from my usual jobs. It takes about 24 poles to make each clouded leopard enclosure and following our first couple of deliveries work is already underway to construct new homes for young breeding pairs.

Our poles will help create an interesting 3D world for these majestic creatures. They like to climb up high, just as they would in the wild where they live up in the trees.

Sadly clouded leopards are classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of threatened species. Their numbers in their native environment in Asia have been decreasing, but at Howletts they are working hard to tackle their decline, which is believed to be due to habitat loss and poaching.

The poles we’re donating have been removed from our network as we’ve updated our equipment. We plan to replace about 5,000 poles this year in the South East and East Anglia as part of the constant renewal of our kit. Many of the poles still have plenty of life left in them for these enclosures, making them perfectly suitable for reuse by the park.

The Environment Agency allows us to donate up to 100 tonnes of our poles to the park each year. This approach reduces the use of new materials by recycling. It can cost up to £75 to dispose of each pole by sending them to an energy from waste plant, so everyone benefits. It’s saving money, helping the environment and supporting a breeding programme for vulnerable wildlife.

These rare and secretive leopards are beautiful animals so it’s fantastic to see the success Howletts is having with this important work. Ultimately their goal is to start returning the cats to their native environment, but for now they are working hard to continue the blood lines.
We’ll update you when the first clouded leopards are being released into their new enclosures and when the first pitter patter of tiny paws is heard in Bekesbourne!

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