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Two Cheetah Cubs Transferred to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Animal Care Staff Took Extraordinary Measures to Keep Cubs Alive

May 23, 2012

Three weeks after their unconventional and rocky entrance into the world, two 3-week-old cheetahs were transported May 18 to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in good health, thanks to the hard work and swift actions of animal care staff at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. They are being hand-raised at the Zoo and will require around-the-clock care until they are ready to make their public debut late this summer.

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    Cheetah cubs at two days old. Photo by Adrienne Crosier.
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    Cheetah cubs at two days old. Photo by Adrienne Crosier.
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    Cheetah cubs at two days old. Photo by Adrienne Crosier.
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    Cheetah cubs at two weeks old. Photo by Adrienne Crosier.
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    Cheetah cubs at two weeks old. Photo by Adrienne Crosier.
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    Cheetah cubs at two weeks old. Photo by Adrienne Crosier.
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    Male cheetah cub at two weeks old. Photo by Janice Sveda.
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    Female cheetah cub at two weeks old. Photo by Janice Sveda.
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    Female cheetah cub at two weeks old. Photo by Janice Sveda.
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    Ally, the cubs' mother. This was her first litter.

Five-year-old cheetah and first-time mom Ally gave birth to the first cub, a male, April 23. However, instead of nursing and cleaning the cub, she abandoned him, which is relatively common for first-time mothers under human care. Cheetah keepers moved the cub to the veterinary hospital to be treated for severe hypothermia. When Ally suddenly stopped having contractions hours later, SCBI head vet Copper Aitken-Palmer anesthetized her to see if she had additional cubs. Aitken-Palmer heard additional heartbeats and performed a radiograph to determine that three cubs remained. She performed a cesarean section, a procedure rarely used on cheetahs and one that cubs do not often survive. A team of veterinarians, keepers and scientists worked for three hours to resuscitate the three cubs, performing CPR, administrating medications, and rubbing the cubs to dry and warm them. One of the three cubs, a female, did survive.

“Given how rare this procedure is, we thought it’d be unlikely for any of the cubs to survive,” said Adrienne Crosier, SCBI cheetah biologist. “But that little female is a fighter. Once we got her breathing, she just kept going. It was a very intense, stressful experience, but among the most inspiring of my career.”

Both cubs and their mother were in intensive care for the following three days. The cubs’ father, Caprivi, was brought to the veterinary hospital to donate plasma to the cubs to boost their immune systems. Today both cubs and their mother appear to be in good health, though animal care staff is continuing to monitor all three carefully.

“There are now two new genetically valuable cubs in a population that so desperately needs them,” Aitken-Palmer said. “So this is really a success for this struggling species.”

Because Ally rejected the first cub, animal care staff is hand raising both cubs, which requires bottle feeding every few hours. Having two hand-raised cubs presented a unique opportunity to bring the animals to the Zoo, according to Tony Barthel, curator of the Zoo’s Cheetah Conservation Station, where the new cubs will live.

“Moving mom and cubs is more challenging than moving the cubs alone for many reasons,” Barthel said. “The cubs will continue to need care and we’re not out of the woods yet. The goal is to ensure that the cheetahs thrive and become ambassadors for their species.”

Ally and Caprivi were paired as a recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for cheetahs. The SSP matches animals across the country to ensure genetic diversity in the population. The mortality rate for cheetah cubs in human care born under normal circumstances is 20 percent during the first six months, compared to a mortality rate of up to 70 percent in the wild population in east Africa. SCBI is one of five centers participating in research to boost the captive cheetah population as part of the Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2). In addition to four litters born at SCBI in Front Royal, two litters of cheetahs have been born at the Zoo’s Washington facility since 2004.

Cheetahs, the fastest animals on land, are struggling to outpace threats to their survival in the wild. As the result of human conflict, hunting and habitat loss, there are only an estimated 7,500 to 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers cheetahs a vulnerable species.

Cheetah Cubs Explore Their Yard at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Cubs to Be Named for the Fastest American Olympians as Part of National Zoo Games

July 24, 2012

The two 3-month-old cheetah cubs at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and the Olympic athletes have one thing in common: starting this week they will be showing off their speed, agility and raw, physical prowess. Just days before the opening of the Olympic Games, the Zoo is introducing the cubs to their yard at the Zoo's Cheetah Conservation Station, giving them outdoor space to romp, run and play. And soon they will have even more in common with the Olympians: In partnership with USA Track & Field, the Zoo will be naming the cubs—a male and a female—after the fastest American male and fastest American female athletes in the Olympics 100-meter dash. The possible names for the female cub: Carmelita, Tianna and Allyson; for the male cub: Justin, Tyson and Ryan.

The decision to name the cubs after the fastest Americans is part of a broader National Zoo Games campaign to celebrate the Zoo's finest animaletes. Beginning July 24 and lasting for the duration of the Olympic Games, the Zoo will be posting photos, videos and fun facts showcasing the best of sport in the animal kingdom, from weightlifting ants to water polo-playing lions. Followers can track the updates on the Zoo's Facebook page and website and through the hashtag #ZooGames on Twitter. Each activity that the animals participate in is an important component of the Zoo's Animal Enrichment program, which provides physically and mentally stimulating activities and environments for the Zoo's residents.

The cubs were born April 23 at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va. Five-year-old first-time mom Ally abandoned the male cub, which is relatively common for first-time mothers under human care, and remained in labor. When she stopped having contractions hours later, SCBI head veterinarian Dr. Copper Aitken-Palmer anesthetized her and performed a cesarean section, a procedure rarely used on cheetahs and one that cubs do not often survive. A team of veterinarians, keepers and scientists worked for three hours to resuscitate the three cubs that were delivered. The female cub survived. Since their birth, the two cubs have been hand-reared and were moved to the Zoo May 18.

The cubs will be on exhibit starting Saturday, July 28, and will have access to their yard every day at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., for no longer than an hour at a time at first. Whether they come out and for how much of the hour they stay out will be up to the cubs.

Cheetah Cubs Named after Fastest American Olympians in 100-Meter Dash

August 6, 2012

cheetah cub sprintingThe cheetah cubs at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and the U.S. Olympic sprinters have been demonstrating their speed and agility to the world, and now the fastest Americans share something else with the 3-month-old cubs: their names. In partnership with USA Track & Field, the Zoo named the cubs Carmelita and Justin after Carmelita Jeter and Justin Gatlin, who were the fastest American sprinters in the 100-meter dash Saturday and Sunday.

On Saturday, August 4, 2012, Jeter ran the 100-meter sprint in 10.78 seconds, winning her the silver medal. Jeter is from California and holds the record as the second-fastest woman in the 100-meter race at 10.64 seconds. On Sunday, August 5, 2012, Gatlin ran the 100-meter sprint in 9.79 seconds, winning him the bronze medal. Gatlin, originally from the Bronx, trains in Florida and ran the 100-meter in the U.S. Olympic Trials faster than any man over 30 years old at 9.8 seconds.

The cubs have access to their yard every day at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., for no longer than an hour at a time at first. Whether they come out and for how much of the hour they stay out will be up to the cubs.

The decision to name the cubs after the fastest Americans is part of a broader National Zoo Games campaign to celebrate the finest animal athletes. For the duration of the Olympic Games, the Zoo is posting photos, videos and fun facts showcasing the best of sport in the animal kingdom, from weightlifting ants to water polo-playing lions. Followers can track the updates on the Zoo’s Facebook page and website and through the hashtag #ZooGames on Twitter.

Each activity the animals participate in is an important component of the Zoo’s Animal Enrichment program, which provides physically and mentally stimulating activities and environments for the Zoo’s residents. Download images of the National Zoo Games from the Zoo’s Flickr page.

Olympic Athletes to Meet National Zoo's Cheetah Cubs and Visitors

September 10, 2012

Cheetah Olympians USA Track & Field Olympic sprinters Carmelita Jeter and Justin Gatlin will be at the Smithsonian's National Zoo this Thursday, Sept. 13, between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to meet the Zoo's two cheetah cubs, Carmelita and Justin. The athletes will also sign autographs for visitors at the Cheetah Conservation Station.

When the two cubs debuted earlier this spring, the Zoo partnered with USA Track & Field to announce that the cubs would be named after the "fastest Americans." Gatlin won the bronze medal in the men's 100-meter sprint with a time of 9.79 seconds, and Jeter won the silver in the women's 100-meter sprint with a time of 10.78 seconds. These American heroes are making a special trip to the Zoo to meet their namesake cubs and will spend an hour signing autographs. The first 450 guests (3 years of age and older) will receive cheetah cub cards perfect for autographs. Alternatively, a guest may bring one object to be autographed. The Olympians will sign only one object per guest.

Olympic Sprinters Carmelita Jeter and Justin Gatlin Delight in Visit with National Zoo's Cheetah Cubs

September 13, 2012

Cheetah Olympians Olympic medalists Justin Gatlin and Carmelita Jeter had a playful behind-the-scenes encounter today with the two cheetah cubs at the Smithsonian's National Zoo that were named after the athletes. Although the cubs did not show much interest in the Olympic medals the athletes held up, the cats demonstrated their athleticism as the Olympians tossed a ball back and forth for them to follow. Jeter serenaded Carmelita cheetah with renditions of songs from the Lion King and both cubs wound up with nicknames from the athletes: "Lita the Cheetah" and "Gat the Cat." The Zoo live tweeted the visit with the hashtag #ZooGames.

When the two cubs debuted earlier this spring, the Zoo partnered with USA Track & Field to announce that the cubs would be named after the "fastest Americans." Gatlin won the bronze medal in the men's 100-meter sprint with a time of 9.79 seconds, and Jeter won the silver in the women's 100-meter sprint with a time of 10.78 seconds. These American heroes made a special trip to the Zoo today to meet their namesakes and sign autographs.

Cheetahs Celebrate 1st Birthday at Smithsonian's National Zoo

April 23, 2013

What did our cheetahs Carmelita and Justin receive for their 1st birthday treats? Boxes filled with delicious bones and fun enrichment toys! Over the past 12 months, we have watched the dynamic duo learn and grow here at the National Zoo. The cheetahs have reached many milestones in their development.

Just last month, the two were introduced to the larger cheetah yard for the first time, receiving their first encounter through mesh with the Grevy’s Zebras and a chance to explore the new space. Visit Justin and Carmelita on exhibit at the Cheetah Conservation Station at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo! The brother and sister were hand-raised at the National Zoo, serving as ambassadors to their species. Keepers say the two will remain together for at least another six months before they will be separated.