It’s International Cheetah Day!

Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

December 4th is a day set aside for the fastest land animal on Earth: the cheetah!  Wildlife Safari is home to 20 cheetahs, both cubs and adults!  Our youngest little ones are just over 15 weeks old and are growing larger and stronger every day.  Cheetah cubs will stay with their mothers for the first 1.5 – 2 years of their life.  During this time the mother feeds them, protects them, and teaches them how to fend for themselves.  Our four cubs, Amani, Roudy, Zigzag, and Corey, are lucky to have a mom who takes care of them very well.

21272323_1833120453384027_3644901987155722462_n

23318973_1902813209748084_9004997826808538436_n

22528372_1874747302554675_4514979925737507561_n

The cheetah has adapted to a quick lifestyle; a 70mph lifestyle to be exact.  The cheetah’s anatomy is specifically built for speed.  They have slender bodies that allow them to be agile and accelerate from 0 – 60mph in less than 3 seconds! Other adaptations that allow this are their flexible spine, semi retractible claws, enlarged nasal cavities and lungs.

15036341_1480398918656184_1910119207228156523_n

Many people mistake a leopard or jaguar for a cheetah.  However, the cheetah has a distinguishable face by their tear marks that run down their face from their eyes.  These two black stripes are the only stripes on a cheetah’s body and help refract the sunlight out of their eyes, allowing them to hunt during the morning and evening hours.  Another way to tell a cheetah apart from other cats are by their spots.  A cheetah has 2 – 3 thousand solid black spots on their bodies. These spots are to help camouflage them into their environment and to help cool them off after a run.

20108142_1777959752233431_6503269732896129122_n

20046380_1777962345566505_3886434199254673706_n

Advertisements

“Can I Pet It?”

Carnivores, Cheetahs, Community, Uncategorized

This question is asked daily to our Cheetah and Carnivore keepers.  Children and adults alike ask it, some with hesitation, and others with excitement.  However, the answer is always the same: “You may not pet the animals.”

“Why am I not allowed to pet the animals but you are?”

In reference to the lions, tigers, and bears: they have large teeth and claws making it dangerous to touch the animals.  Keepers practice “protected contact” with these animals, meaning there is a barrier between us (the keeper) and them (the animal) at all times.

In regards to the cheetahs, we are “free contact,” meaning that we can go in with these wild animals.  We are able to do this because cheetahs run away from danger instead of challenging danger.  However, the only cheetahs you will see the Cheetah and Carnivore keepers petting are our hand raised ambassadors.  This is to help strengthen the bond between keeper and cat since the ambassadors must be comfortable with them.

“I have been to a place where the keepers go in with their lions, tigers, and bears.”

Places that do not have protected contact with their large carnivores are unaccredited institutions.  Wildlife Safari is accredited through AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) which is designed to hold zoos and aquariums to the highest standard of animal care, safety of the animals, guests, and staff.

“My friend got to hold a cub when she was at another zoo.”

This is an example of unaccredited institutions using people’s love for animals to their gain.  Cubs can be adorable and it is overwhelming for us to touch and cuddle them.  However, these cubs are taken from their mother at a young age which stresses both mother and cub.  These cubs are then held for up to 12 hours a day during their time of crucial development.  After these cubs get too large to be held they are sold to private owners, hunt ranches, or onto the black market. Some of these cubs end up at certified sanctuaries but will not make their way into accredited facilities because most cubs are mixes of multiple subspecies.  Accredited facilities are unable to accept mixed subspecies to be apart of the captive breeding population.

It is tempting to want to pet wild animals that are cute and rare.  However, in the case of large carnivores, it is simply not a good idea for the animal or human.  Instead, try transferring those affections to your domestic doggie or kitty at home or donating to reputable conservation organizations.

 

Growing Fast!

Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari’s recent littler of cheetah cubs are 6 months old! While to their keepers it feels like only yesterday they arrived on the scene, they are now 6 months old, around 35 lbs and eating the same amount of meat as their mother.

Cheetah cubs eating dinner – photo courtesy of Jill McLeod

Even little Kiume, the foster cub from another litter, is fast catching up to the others. Although he is 3 weeks younger than his adopted siblings, he is the most curious and adventurous of the bunch.

Curious little cubs – photo courtesy of Jill McLeod

They are little bundles of energy, they love playing together and watching people go by. All that play is exhausting though, and they can often be found all in a pile on top of mom while they rest.

Moonfire and her cubs, Clark 2, David, Rebel, Jezabelle and Kiume

Cheetah Breeding

Behind the Scenes, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari is the number one cheetah breeding facility in the Americas and the second most successful in the world with 204 cheetah cub births.  Cheetahs are extremely difficult to breed in captivity as they become stressed very easily.  This can effect their estrus cycles and the mating behaviors that they will display to one another.

There are many reasons Wildlife Safari’s breeding program is such a success, including the number and size of enclosures. The park has more enclosures than cheetahs, and these enclosures are quite spacious since we have about 6 acres dedicated to our cheetah breeding – not including our cheetah drive through.  Finally, our cheetah breeding is off from public view, allowing the cats to live in a very low stress environment. The only human interaction the mother-raised cheetahs will obtain while they are in this area is from the keepers going in daily to give them their food, water, and clean up their pens.

img_2235

Photo courtesy of Brooke Barlow

Estrus

First up is the process of determining whether or not a female is in estrus or not.  Cheetahs have a very abnormal estrus cycle called spontaneous ovulation.  This means that these cats can go into estrus multiple times in a month or will only go into estrus once or twice a year.  This is one of the obstacles to breeding cheetahs in captivity.  However, Wildlife Safari’s many enclosures equip us to help stimulate this unpredictable estrus cycle, as cheetahs can sometimes be induced into estrus with a change in environment.

Breeding

Cheetah breeding can be quite a process – with stimulating a female into estrus, which males will confirm by giving out a call referred to as a stutter bark (exactly what it sounds like). To making sure the male and female get along with each other, we let them meet through a fence before allowing them to be in the same enclosure. Then we hope for successful breeding!

Gestation

After this breeding, the gestation period will be tracked (91 days).  At day 30 the female will be ultra sounded if they are comfortable with this method. If not, X-rays will be performed around day 55-60 to confirm cubs.  These procedures do require daily training to them used to it – making the actual procedure just another training session rather than a scary thing. This is done by giving them bits of meat while practicing the procedure – rubbing their belly for ultra sounds or practicing walking them into an “L” shaped chute for X-rays.  Around day 85-91 their dinners are split in half to be fed in the morning and evening. Signs of labor can include pacing, going in and out of the hut, panting, and loss of appetite.  When these occur the she is watched 24/7 until she gives birth and the cubs are old enough and healthy enough to be on their own.  This can be different for each litter, and depends on how well the mother and health of the cubs.

A young cheetah at Wildlife Safari

A young cheetah at Wildlife Safari

This breeding process happens almost all year round at Wildlife Safari. It is through this captive breeding program that we hope to help increase cheetah’s genetic diversity.

New arrivals

Last month Wildlife Safari has welcomed a new litter healthy cubs! We are very excited to announce that each one is gaining weight daily and there have been no complications!  We are looking forward to watching them grow and mature.

 

Welcome to the World, Little Cheetahs!

Behind the Scenes, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari is excited to announce the birth of four cheetah cubs! Mother Moonfire gave birth late last month to four healthy, active little ones – all getting bigger everyday! This litter is particularly special for the park as it takes our cheetah cub count up to 201 since the start of the breeding program.

cubs3

The litter is genetically valuable for the captive breeding population, so they have a bright hopeful future.

Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

For now, the Cheetah team is enjoying watching them grow and play.

cubs2

Moonfire is a doting mother, taking excellent care of her cubs.

Moonfire and her cubs

Moonfire and her cubs – Photo courtesy of Maddy Tweedt

Big Plans for a Little Cub

Behind the Scenes, Cheetahs, Keeper Chats, Uncategorized

Wildlife Safari has one of the most successful cheetah breeding programs in the world, with 190 cheetahs born at the park. Meet Number 190! His name is Kitwana (Swahili for ‘pledged to live’) and he was born last month. Unfortunately, his mother wasn’t producing milk for him. When it became clear that the mother cheetah was not going to be able to care for him, keepers stepped in to hand raise him.

Kitwana in his incubator, staying warm and happy

Kitwana in his incubator, staying warm and happy

For the next 3 weeks or so, Kitwana’s keepers bottle fed him every 2-4 hours, including night feedings, which meant lots of zoo sleepovers! After watching him grow in size, ability, and personality, Kitwana was moved to another facility so that he could have brothers and sisters to grow up with. He found his new home at Cincinnati Zoo when there was a litter born not long after him that also needed to be hand raised.

Kitwana having a rest with one of his keepers - all tuckered out after a feeding

Kitwana having a rest with one of his keepers – all tuckered out after a feeding

Sarah Roy, Carnivore and Cheetah Supervisor talks about how arrangements were made for Kitwana (nicknamed Kit) to go to his new home. “We work closely with the 7 other breeding centers in North America and were able to pin point another litter,” she says. “That way he could have litter mates and grow up in a social setting.”

Cross-fostering, as it is called when they place a cub with another litter in this way, has been successful in the past. Sometimes cross-fostering is possible with a mother raised litter, but can also be done with a litter of cubs being hand raised, like in Kitwana’s case.

 

Kitwana being bottle fed by one of his keepers

Kitwana being bottle fed by one of his keepers

If it is not successful for Kitwana, then he may become an ambassador instead, going out into the community with his keepers to teach people about cheetahs. “Ambassadors are, in a way, just as important as breeding cheetahs,” says Roy. “The ambassadors are out there meeting people and kids everywhere, spreading the word of how cool cheetahs are and why we need to save them.”

Being a cheetah cub sure is exhausting

Being a cheetah cub sure is exhausting

Keepers work closely with their animals, but there is an even stronger bond formed in a hand raising situation. But keepers know what it takes to work in conservation, and there are times when you need to say goodbye to an animal to see it goe where it is needed. Whether it needs to go somewhere to grow up happier, or leave to join another breeding program, it can be a bitter sweet feeling for the staff involved. Roy has worked in the cheetah breeding program and is very used to situations Kitwana’s. “It’s hard, he’s the sweetest little boy, but I think looking at the big picture we’re happy to see them go to a good situation that will help the cheetah program as a whole.”