Two litters of cheetah cubs were born during a single week at the Smithsonian Institution’s research facility in Front Royal, Virginia.
A cheetah named Happy gave birth to five cubs on March 23, and another cheetah named Miti gave birth to seven cubs March 28, of which five survived.
Both litters were born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), about a 90-minute drive from Washington.
Only around 7,100 cheetahs are believed to be living in the wild. About 1,800 captive cheetahs are part of an international breeding effort to increase the cheetah population.
By studying the genomes of cheetahs, scientists know that cheetahs experienced a near-extinction event about 10,000 years ago. They rebounded, but with low genetic diversity. That means researchers’ goal is to mix and match more pairs to diversify the genetics as much as possible. Cheetahs are once again under threat in the wild, this time due to habitat fragmentation and poaching.
“In just one week, we increased the number of cheetahs at SCBI by 50 percent,” says Adrienne Crosier, the institute’s cheetah biologist and manager of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Cheetah Species Survival Plan, which matches cheetahs for breeding.
“Each and every cub plays a significant role in improving the health of the population of cheetahs in human care and represents hope for the species overall,” Crosier said.
The two litters highlight the ongoing success story of the Smithsonian’s cheetah conservation program, which has played a major role in reviving population numbers. Forty-six cubs have been born at the facility since 2010.
Other threatened and endangered wildlife at the research facility include red pandas, black-footed ferrets and clouded leopards.