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Zoo Heralds Litter Of 4 Endangered Cheetah Cubs

Exhibit Will Open Early Next Year

By Karlyn Barker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 30, 2004; Page B03

Four rare cheetahs were born last week at the National Zoo, the first litter of the world's fastest land animal in the zoo's 115-year history, officials announced yesterday.

Tumai, who came to the zoo this year and was bred in August with a male cheetah, Amadi, gave birth to the cubs Nov. 23 inside a den at the zoo's Cheetah Conservation Station. It was her first litter.

Amadi (pronounced ah-MAH-dee), a male cheetah, was bred in August with the zoo's female cheetah. The male does not participate in raising the cubs. (National Zoo Photos)

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Zoo veterinarians won't examine the litter for about a month, and the cubs will not go on public exhibit until next year.

"We want to give mom plenty of time to bond," said Jack Grisham, associate curator.

Grisham said the National Zoo staff has worked with cheetah breeding in the wild and at other zoos for more than 25 years. Cheetahs, which are considered endangered species, suffer genetic defects from inbreeding. The lack of genetic diversity has resulted in low resistance to disease and high cub mortality.

This is the fourth litter of cheetah cubs born in North America this year, Grisham said. There are 266 cheetahs in captivity in North America and about 1,200 in captivity worldwide.

Cheetahs once were found in parts of southern Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Today, 12,000 to 15,000 cheetahs are in the wild in Africa and in small populations in Iran and Afghanistan, according to zoo officials. They live eight to 10 years in the wild, generally longer in captivity.

Cheetahs run up to 60 mph.

Grisham said cheetahs are a difficult species to breed in captivity because males and females don't see each other much in the wild and have compatibility problems. He credited keeper staff with careful monitoring of the cheetahs and knowing the best time to put the female and male together.

Tumai was raised by her mother, and this has helped her know how to take care of her own cubs.

"She's a great mom, so far," Grisham said.

Following mating, the gestation period for cheetahs is 90 to 96 days. The male does not participate in raising the cubs.

Zoo spokeswoman Peper Long said the cheetahs were born over an 11-hour period Nov. 23, beginning at 2:15 a.m. Their births bring the number of cheetahs at the zoo to 10. Two are males and four are females; the staff won't know the sexes of the cubs until veterinarians are able to examine them next month.

The cubs will stay with their mother until they are at least a year old but eventually will be sent to other zoos or animal facilities for breeding.

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