What do you feed the cub?
We are feeding him a special, commercial formula recommended by the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for hand-rearing cheetah cubs. Other breeding centers have had great success with it and the SSP’s vets and nutrition advisor have assessed it carefully.
We weaned him onto the formula. His mom, 7-year-old Sukiri, nursed him over his first night before abandoning him the next morning. When we brought him in, we diluted the formula with water so his system could adjust to the different substance. We started with half formula, half water. The next day we gave him 75% formula, and by his third day he was eating 100% formula.
In the future, we hope to make use of our milk bank. The National Zoo’s Department of Nutrition Science has the world’s largest animal milk repository, but there have not been enough cheetah milk samples collected for a formula to be created. Most large cats will not tolerate the hands-on contact needed to collect the samples. A rare exception to this was the birth mother to the first two cheetah cubs born via embryo transfer in 2020. Hopefully we will be able to collect more samples in the future.
How often do you feed him?
At one week old, we feed him eight times a day, or every 3 hours on average. This weekend we will go to seven times a day. We watch our cheetah cubs nurse very closely from den cameras, but its impossible to track exactly how often they nurse when they’re with their mom. On top of the challenge of identifying individuals on the cam, cheetah cubs will ‘nurse sleep’. The same happens when we hand-rear cubs: I will be feeding the cub and he will randomly doze off with the bottle in his mouth. Then he will wake up for a few more minutes and nurse before falling back to sleep again. It is very cute.