October 2, 2003
Contact: Peper Long 202-673-0206
Aged National Zoo Cheetah Euthanized
Washington, D.C. – National Zoo veterinarians euthanized a 13-year old female cheetah at 10:30 a.m. today after determining that she was suffering from renal disease. “Chiku,” which means “chatterbox” in Swahili, was born in 1990 at the St. Louis Zoo, and had no offspring at the National Zoo.
Zoo animal keepers and veterinarians noticed a decline in the elderly cheetah’s health over the past week, and after several days of testing and observation at the Zoo’s animal hospital, veterinarians determined this morning that she would not recover. Cheetahs – especially in captivity where they may far outlive their wild counterparts – are prone to renal disease and other afflictions as they age.
Cheetahs are the world’s fastest land mammals and the species is also one of the most endangered. They live in small populations mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, and may live up to eight years in the wild.
Scientists have found that cheetahs suffer from genetic defects due to inbreeding, possibly the results of a population bottleneck that occurred perhaps as long as 12,000 years ago. This kind of inbreeding in nature underlies high cub mortality, low female fertility, and a low resistance to disease. The National Zoo participates in the cheetah Species Survival Program, which supports genetic interchange in the species.
An estimated 8,000 – 10,000 cheetahs survive
in the wild. The National Zoo has four surviving cheetahs – two
males and two females.