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Smithsonian's National Zoo Mourns Female Cheetah

Tumai Contributed Four Cubs to Her Species' Survival

The National Zoo's senior female cheetah, Tumai, died overnight. Preliminary results from a necropsy indicate that a tumor caused her spleen to rupture; however, a final pathology report will provide more information. She was 13 years old. Typically, female cheetahs in human care have a median lifespan of 10 years. Longevity studies have not been conducted in the wild.

Tumai arrived at the National Zoo in May 2004 from the Phoenix Zoo. Treasured by staff and visitors alike, she was most well-known for giving birth to the Zoo's first litter of cheetah cubs Nov. 23, 2004. Tumai was paired with male Amadi and their offspring—two males and two females—went on to live at the Cape May Zoo in New Jersey, the Wildlife Safari Park in Oregon and the Milwaukee County Zoo in Wisconsin. Most National Zoo animals participate in a breeding program called the Species Survival Plan. The SSP scientists determine which animals to breed by considering their genetic makeup, nutritional and social needs, temperament and overall health.

Cheetahs live in small, isolated populations mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of their strongholds are in eastern and southern African parks. Due to human conflict, poaching and habitat and prey-base loss, there are only an estimated 7,500 to 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers cheetahs vulnerable to extinction.

Zoo visitors can see three adult male cheetahs and two sub-adult cheetahs at the Cheetah Conservation Station.