Cheetah Cubs: Lots of Spots!

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Shiley, XX, and XX in a rare moment of repose.

Shiley, Johari, and Taraji in a rare moment of repose.

We’ve had an explosion of cuteness at the Wild Animal Park in the form of adorable cheetah cubs. Critically endangered, each cheetah cub arrival is cause for celebration—but what do we do with all those spots?

Although these tall, slender cats are familiar to all, not everyone is aware that cheetahs may not be around much longer without some serious help from researchers. The Wild Animal Park set up a cheetah breeding program in the 1970s, and more than 130 cheetahs have been born as a result of this effort.

Amara spent the summer as part of the Zoo's Backstage Pass program.

Amara spent the summer as part of the Zoo's Backstage Pass program.

The first cheetah cub born at the Park this year was Amara. Her story is extra special as her conception was the result of a new bioacoustic program developed by researchers at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research (see post Calling Cheetahs). Born in February, Amara was hand raised in the Park’s Animal Care Center, much to the delight of our guests, who could see the cub napping in her crib or being bottle-fed by one of her nursery keepers. It was decided that Amara be groomed for life as an ambassador for her species, so the Park’s animal trainers began visiting and bonding with her at the nursery. When she was old enough, Amara moved to the Park’s animal training compound.

Then in May, three cheetahs born at another facility arrived at the Park to be hand raised. Named Shiley, Johari, and Taraji, they were quite the handful for our nursery staff and were barel still long enough to pose for group photos! Soon after, Amara’s mother, Kenya, delivered another singleton cub. As cheetah mothers eventually reject singletons, this newest cub, named Lindewe, was slowly introduced to the older trio for socialization purposes.

These days, Amara, Shiley, and Johari are learning the ropes of being animal ambassadors at the Wild Animal Park, while Taraji is doing the same at the San Diego Zoo. Lindewe has been returned to the Park’s cheetah research station for future participation in the breeding program there. She is joined each night by her former nursery mates, Shiley and Johari, for cheetah-style companionship and playtime.

The youngsters will soon be ambassador pros like veteran Majani.

The youngsters will soon be ambassador pros like veteran Majani.

Mike Burke, a lead animal trainer at the Wild Animal Park, says there is definitely a “cuteness” overload at the training compound with three young cheetahs, as well as veteran cheetah Majani, in residence! They make appearances on television and in our animal shows and encounters at the Park. All of the youngsters are trained to walk on a leash, focus on their trainer, sit, go in and out of a crate, and ride in a cart as part of their varied “ambassador duties.” Mike describes Amara as a confident little fireball of energy, a youngster who is ready for anything that comes her way; Shiley is the most affectionate of the trio and enjoys working with his trainers; and Johari is more reserved, seeming to daydream at times. Mike is proud of their accomplishments so far and sees a bright future ahead for all those spots!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for the San Diego Zoo.