Bingwa is truly a champion among cheetahs! The Saint Louis Zoo just announced that its four-year-old female big cat, whose name means “champion” in Swahili, gave birth to a record-breaking litter of eight cubs on Nov. 26, 2017.
In a press release from the zoo, the birth is said to be “remarkable” and “important for the survival of the species.” It is also the first time in Saint Louis Zoo history that a cheetah mother has given birth to a litter of this size.
In fact, the zoo reports that in more than 430 litters documented by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Bingwa’s brood is the only instance where a female cheetah has produced and reared a litter of eight cubs at any zoo. The average litter size for the species is three to four cubs.
“She has quickly become adept at caring for her very large litter of cubs — grooming, nursing and caring for them attentively,” says Steve Bircher, curator of mammals/carnivores at the Saint Louis Zoo, in a statement to the media.
The zoo took to Facebook to share the good news: “Now that the ‘cats are out of the bag,’ we are happy to share a more recent video of the eight cheetah cubs…”
Mama Bingwa is on loan to the Saint Louis Zoo from Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon, while nine-year-old father cat Jason is on loan from White Oak Conservation in Yulee, Florida. According to the cheetah care team, mother and cubs are healthy and doing well. They will stay within their private, indoor maternity den for the next few months as mom and cubs continue to bond.
The early months of life are a critical phase for newborn cheetahs. The care staff will monitor them for now, and the babies are expected to make their public debut at a later date. In the meantime, the Saint Louis Zoo promises to provide photo and video updates via social media, such as Facebook, and its website whenever possible.
The zoo reports that the birth of these eight cubs is “a result of a breeding recommendation from the AZA Cheetah Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program to manage a genetically healthy population of cheetahs in North American zoos.” Since 1974, more than 50 cubs have been born at the Cheetah Breeding Center at the Saint Louis Zoo.
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“We’ve brought together cheetahs from great distances to continue this important breeding program,” Bircher says in the press release. “These handsome cats add genetic diversity to the North American Cheetah SSP population.”
Fewer than 10,000 cheetahs live today in Africa, with less than 100 cheetahs in Iran. In the past 50 years, cheetahs “have become extinct in at least 13 countries” as reported in December 2017. Human-cheetah conflict, interspecific competition and lack of genetic diversity are among the top causes of the species’ decline.