#CheetahCubdate 1: An Introduction to Cuddle Puddles

This update was written by biologist Adrienne Crosier.

Cheetah Rosalie gave birth to five healthy cheetah cubs Oct. 12 at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. SCBI is part of the Cheetah Breeding Center Coalition — a group of 10 cheetah breeding centers across the United States that aims to create and maintain a sustainable North American cheetah population under human care. Each cub is a significant addition to the Cheetah Species Survival Plan. Follow along via Cheetah Cubdates or tune in anytime to the Cheetah Cub Cam.

Rosalie's cubs are 1 week old today and there’s only good news to report: they’re adorable, fat and happy.

If you’ve been watching the Cheetah Cub Cam, you’ll notice that the cubs’ ears have opened, their eyes are opening, and they’re getting more mobile by the day. This is exactly what we would expect to see in 1-week-old cubs.

The best moments for us come from watching the cubs sleep. It makes for the cutest "cuddle puddle." When Rosalie leaves the den, the cubs huddle together for warmth. This is exactly what they’re supposed to do. As animal care staff, it’s fun trying to tell whose face goes with whose body. Sometimes their little legs and paws even move in their sleep.  

I’m happy to report that Rosalie has been doing great as a first-time mom! It took her a few days, but she got the hang of nursing all five cubs, grooming them and positioning herself without squishing any of them — something that can be difficult with five cubs.

Rosalie is a protective cheetah mom. She did not leave the den to eat or drink for more than two days after the cubs were born. We generally don’t worry if a cheetah mom does not eat for a few days, but we want to make sure that Rosalie is staying hydrated. She finally left the den on Thursday afternoon for some food and water. Before having cubs, Rosalie did not mind if we were around while she ate, but during her first few days as a mom, she only ate after we left. Finally, on Monday, she came to eat while we were there. Keeping her distracted with food gave us time to clean up her yard.

The next step is getting into the den to check on the cubs. Ideally, we’d weigh them, sex them, and shave a tiny bit of fur to be able to identify each cub. However, since Rosalie is a protective mama, our priority is to keep things calm for as long as possible. If we disturb her den, Rosalie might seek a “safer” space for her cubs, such as the other den in her yard or even outside. We don’t want her to feel as though she needs to move the cubs. If Rosalie does leave the cubs for a while, we might try to just touch her den or a cub to leave our scent behind and see how she reacts. As animal care staff, we take our cues from Rosalie and move at her pace, especially since all the cubs seem to be doing so well. You can really see those big round bellies on the Cheetah Cub Cam!

Here are the things we’re looking for in the cubs’ development this week (you can watch for them too!). We expect the cubs to become more and more mobile. They will make their way from crawling to walking. The cubs’ purring and chirping, a signal to mom that they want to nurse or be groomed, is easy to hear on the cam as well. Once their eyes are finally open, we’ll also see them recognize mom as she comes and goes. But don’t worry — the cuddle puddles will continue.