For Release: February 4, 2005
John Gibbons (202) 673-4840
Peper Long (202) 673-0206
National Zoo's Four Cheetah Cubs to Make Public Debut
The National Zoo's four cheetah cubs will go on public exhibit beginning Saturday, Feb. 5, weather permitting. This is the first litter of cheetah cubs born at the National Zoo during its 115-year history. The cubs made their first media appearance Friday morning, Feb. 4, as they explored their outdoor exhibit yard together with their mother Tumai (TOO-may) during a special preview for the press.
Since they were born 10 weeks ago, the two male and two female cubs have been housed indoors, off-exhibit, giving mother and cubs ample time to bond. This is the first litter for 4-year-old Tumai. To prepare the cubs for their new outdoor home, keepers have been slowly introducing them to the outside for the past month.
The cubs, born on Nov. 23, now weigh about 10 pounds each; they will weigh more than 100 pounds when fully grown. They are still dependent on their mother's milk but are also eating meat. The Zoo's staff expects the cubs to be fully weaned at three months old.
In addition to the four cubs, the National Zoo has five adult cheetahsone male and four females.
Cheetahs are the fastest land animalsreaching speeds upwards of 60 miles per hour. Once found in parts of southern Asia, the Middle East and Africa, these cats now exist in Africa, with small populations in Iran and Afghanistan. An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 cheetahs survive in the wild, where they typically live eight to 10 years.
National Zoo's Commitment to Cheetah Conservation
25 Years of Cheetah Reproductive Research
- National Zoo researchers, along with the National Cancer Institute, first reported the lack of genetic variation in cheetahs, which contributes to their reproductive problems and susceptibility to disease.
- Zoo scientists developed the first successful method of freezing and preserving cheetah sperm, which resulted in the first surviving litter of cheetahs born via artificial insemination. One of the female cheetahs in the Zoo's current collection is a member of that litter.
- Zoo scientists were the first to successfully transport and use frozen semen from Africa.
International Scientific Collaboration and Research
- National Zoo researchers are working in Africa with the Cheetah Conservation Fund—an international research and conservation organization—recording data and collecting sperm from wild cheetahs, which diversifies the captive breeding gene pool.
- The Zoo's partnership with the Cheetah Conservation Fund includes collaboration with African farmers to humanely traprather than killcheetahs on their land. This also provides another opportunity to record and collect data and sperm from wild cheetahs.
- National Zoo staff helped develop the Global Cheetah Forum, an Africa-based conservation network striving to ensure the long-term survival of cheetahs in the wild.
- National Zoo researchers are working closely with several international organizations to develop and implement the first population-wide cheetah census in Africa in 30 years.
Cheetah Conservation at the Zoo
- National Zoo veterinarians use modern technology and medicine—some originally developed for humans—to care for cheetahs and advance our knowledge of cheetah biology. For example, Zoo veterinarians recently performed an MRI at the IAMS Pet Imaging Center in Vienna, Va., on an elderly Zoo cheetah to try to determine the presence of pituitary gland tumors.
- To understand more about the cheetah's unique physiology, Zoo veterinarians take regular blood samples from cheetahs to monitor their immunologic response to vaccination. What we learn helps us, and other zoos and conservation organizations better manage cheetahs.
- The National Zoo participates in the cheetah Species Survival Plan (SSP)a cooperative breeding and conservation program with zoos throughout North America. The SSP is designed to maintain genetically viable populations of cheetahs in captivity and to organize efforts to preserve the species in the wild. Jack Grisham, associate curator at the National Zoo, serves as the cheetah SSP coordinator.