For Release: October 6, 2007
Pamela Baker-Masson (202) 633-3084
John Gibbons (202) 633-3083
National Zoo Opens Cheetah Science Facility in Front Royal, Va.
Today, Smithsonian’s National Zoo Director John Berry and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) opened the new Cheetah Science Facility at the Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va. It is the first new research facility to be constructed on the property in 22 years and is made possible by a $1 million gift from Bill McClure, a longtime friend of the National Zoo. This 9-acre Cheetah Science Facility will be the center of the Zoo’s international cheetah research program in which scientists study cheetah biology to ensure good health, reproduction and self-sustaining populations in zoos and in the wild.
“This facility not only represents the 27 years of our work with cheetahs but also highlights the decades of work that the National Zoo has dedicated to wildlife conservation and our commitment to be leaders in world-class science,” said Berry.
The Conservation and Research Center provides an ideal site to study cheetah reproduction and health. Located in a remote section of the property, the new facility provides spacious enclosures for more than a dozen adult cheetahs and their offspring. Scientists will focus on developing husbandry practices that encourage cheetah breeding, while at the same time learning more about the reproductive biology, medical needs, behavior and nutritional requirements for this species. Cheetahs present a number of health challenges and are poor captive breeders with most offspring being produced by only a fraction of the adults. A priority of the new facility is to determine how to ensure all valuable cheetahs consistently reproduce in order to maintain a healthy genetic population.
The National Zoo has been a leader in cheetah conservation efforts both in Africa and in North American zoos for the last 30 years. Currently, Zoo reproductive scientists are developing sperm and embryo technologies to transfer cheetah genetic material between cats in Africa and North America, techniques that someday could be useful for moving genes between isolated wild populations. In addition, the new facility will allow more collaboration between scientists in the United States and Namibia. National Zoo veterinarians are testing new anesthetic and veterinary protocols to help local biologists in Namibia more safely and effectively study the animals in the wild. The new facility also will be used as a hub for training African biologists, helping to create the next generation of conservationists ready to serve and protect Africa’s unique biodiversity.
“I know that the new Cheetah Science Facility will advance our scientific knowledge and offer more opportunities to share with the public the tremendous work our staff is doing to conserve endangered and threatened wildlife,” said Dr. Steven Monfort, the National Zoo’s associate director of animal care. “What is most important is how we can take what is learned here in the U.S. to help sustain cheetahs still living in Africa.”
In November 2004, following decades of leadership in cheetah research, a litter of cubs was born for the first time in the Zoo’s history. Another litter was born the following April. Both cheetahs who gave birth to these historic litters, Tumai (November 2004) and Zazi (April 2005), are the first cheetahs to live at the facility. The nine cubs that resulted from Tumai and Ume’s litter are the result of the Zoo’s participation in the Cheetah Species Survival Plan. The National Zoo will continue to participate in this program, with cats located at the park in Washington and at the new facility.
The 3,200-acre Conservation and Research Center is a unique asset of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Front Royal. The Conservation and Research Center houses between 30 and 40 species (half of which are considered officially endangered) and is regarded as one of the world’s leading conservation biology research facilities. Conservation and Research Center science focuses on conservation biology, with particular expertise in wildlife and landscape ecology, biodiversity monitoring, reproduction and animal health, conservation and evolutionary genetics, nutrition, studies of neotropical migrant birds and conservation education and sustainability science.
The cheetah, the world’s fastest land mammal, faces a questionable future in nature. Fewer than 15,000 cheetahs exist in the wild. Cheetahs in zoos are a research resource and provide a safeguard against extinction. Additionally, in zoos, this species provides wonderful opportunities to educate the public and raise awareness about the need to protect all of Africa’s wildlife.
To ensure the continued success of the Cheetah Science Facility, Friends of the National Zoo will be launching its 2007 annual appeal to support the Facility’s cheetah conservation efforts.
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