This Week’s Creature Feature: Protecting a Vulnerable Species

For five cheetah cubs born May 28 at the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va., the first doctor’s visit was a house call.
    In mid-June, Smithsonian biologists spent a few minutes examining the two-pound furballs — and happily reported all five cubs to be healthy and active.
    “When I was weighing the last cub, he was being a very tough little guy,” said Adrienne Crosier, cheetah biologist. “We’re already starting to see differences in their dispositions and look forward to watching them grow and learning all we can from them.”
    The year-old Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute unifies the Smithsonian’s many efforts to conserve species and train future conservationists, supporting programs not only at Front Royal and the National Zoo but also at research sites around the world. Smithsonian scientists are leaders in the study, management, protection, and restoration of threatened species, ecological communities, habitats and ecosystems throughout the world.
    Cheetahs are considered a “vulnerable” species, with only an estimated 7,500 to 10,000 surviving in the wild. Their declining population is due to human conflict, hunting and loss of habitat.
    Births in captivity are few; this is the only litter of cheetahs born this year in a North American zoo. So the litter of five was a big deal.
    “These cubs are very significant for the future of the population, and each birth gives us an opportunity to learn more about cheetah biology and how females raise their young,” Crosier said.
    For now, the five cheetah cubs will call Front Royal home. There they will be monitored, but from afar, giving their mom, six-year-old Amani, privacy to bond with her babies.
    The cheetah’s keepers can tell the almost month-old cubs apart, but the cubs are still nameless.
    “We’re working on finding names for them,” says National Zoo spokesperson Lindsay Renick Mayer. “Sometimes we find names with a public contest, sometimes keepers name animals.”
    In some cases, donors get naming rights, as they do for sports arenas. Here’s hoping these little cheetahs — the fastest animals on land — will have names more distinguished than Overnight, Express, Delivery, Federal and Guaranteed.
    Watch the cheetah cubs as they grow: