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.
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.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.