#CheetahCubdate 2: A New Den

This update was written by cheetah biologist Adrienne Crosier.

On Thursday, Oct. 21, cheetah mom Rosalie picked a new "den" for her cubs. She moved them, one by one, to a large clump of tall grasses in her yard. The area is well-protected and it is not uncommon for cheetah moms to move dens. Animal care staff are monitoring Rosalie and the cubs but will not intervene at this time, as Rosalie has been a very attentive mother. Unfortunately, there's no webcam in the grass so stay tuned for updates!

Why did Rosalie move her cubs? Was she scared or spooked?

We don’t know why Rosalie moved her cubs. It’s completely natural for cheetah moms to move their litters. In fact, every single one of our females has moved cubs during the first month of life except for one. The grasses are also a very popular spot for cheetah moms to move their cubs within the first month – five have in recent memory: Amani (2011), Sanurra (2015), Hope (2017), Erin (2018), and Echo (2020).

Weather can also play a factor. This time of the year is hard. It’s warm during the day and moms get very warm inside the dens. But it’s also still chilly to be outside at night. So, it is a hard time of year to be in one place or the other 100% of the time. The warm days could have encouraged Rosalie to move her cubs out. We observed her panting in the den during the day. She had also been in that den for almost two weeks straight! It was likely pretty gross and stinky in there. In the wild, they wouldn’t stay in one place too long because the smell would attract predators.

Will she move the cubs back into the den?

Possibly. We can’t predict what Rosalie will do or if/when she would move the cubs again. Even if she chose to move them, she may not put them back into a den with a webcam. We’ll have to wait and see.

Can you move the camera into the yard? Why not?

No, we can’t (and we wouldn’t) move the camera into Rosalie’s yard. The cheetah yards are extremely large, so placing webcams is technically difficult. At this point, we also wouldn’t want to disturb Rosalie or the cubs. Entering her yard to hook up more cameras could be disruptive.

How will animal care staff monitor the cubs if there’s no camera?

We will keep a very close eye on Rosalie and her cubs. When they were last on camera, the cubs all looked healthy. Rosalie has been such a great, attentive mom. At this point, we just have to trust her.

If you have been keeping up with our #CheetahCubdates you’ll know that we are taking our cues from Rosalie. There’s no change in how we approach the cubs. We will wait until Rosalie comes into the barn where she is fed, and one of our staff will gauge Rosalie’s demeanor. If she is calm and doesn’t seem agitated, one of our team members will safely enter the yard and look in on the cubs in the grass. Eventually, if Rosalie leaves the cubs in this new “den,” we will proceed the same way we would proceed if the cubs were in the artificial den with the camera; we will slowly get closer until we can evaluate the cubs, pick them up, weigh them and more. This could take days or weeks, depending on Rosalie.

Are you worried about the cubs?

Not at this time. Rosalie has proven herself to be a great mother – and she is the cheetah mother, not us. It’s an encouraging sign that Rosalie never picked a cub up until she decided to move them. We might worry if she picked the cubs up randomly or carried them with no destination, but Rosalie moved them from point A to point B and was very deliberate about it.

Will animal care staff do anything if the weather gets bad?

Similar to adding cameras, anything we do in the yard could be disruptive to Rosalie. She currently has two artificial dens in the yard that she can choose from. We can add a third den if we think that could help Rosalie, but she’s not showing signs of needing another den option. We’ll watch Rosalie for agitation, carrying the cubs, or moving them too often or without purpose.