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Category — General Zoo

Meet our Cheetahs: Celebrating International Cheetah Day

Today, on International Cheetah Day, we celebrate the fastest animal on land by introducing you to our ambassador cheetahs and how they help spread awareness about cheetah conservation.

Our cheetah ambassadors work with their trainers at the Cat Ambassador Program (CAP)educating more than 150,000 people a year about the importance of cheetahs and other wild cat predators. From April to October, Zoo guests can witness cheetahs running and other wild cats performing natural behaviors during Cheetah Encounter shows. During the school year, CAP staff introduces students to cheetahs and small wild cats during assembly programs.

At 14 years old, Sara is our most experienced ambassador and still enjoys running during shows. In fact, she is the “fastest cheetah in captivity” as she was clocked running 100 meters in 5.95 seconds last summer during a National Geographic photo shoot. Watch the behind-the-scenes video here.

Sara (Photo: Mark Frolick)

Sara (Photo: Mark Frolick)

Born at the DeWildt Breeding Center in South Africa in 2004, Bravo and Chance came to us when they were six months old.  They remain a coalition here, as brother cheetahs often stick together in the wild, and are our only cheetahs housed together.  They spend more time in our Africa exhibit yard than the other cheetahs.

Bravo and Chance

Bravo and Chance

Tommy T was born at the Zoo’s off-site Cheetah Breeding Facility in 2008 and is named after Tom Tenhundfeld, the lead keeper at the facility. He was raised with Pow Wow (the dog), and was featured in the November 2012 issue of National Geographic Magazine. He even made the cover!

Tommy T

Tommy T

Tommy T on the cover of National Geographic

Tommy T on the cover of National Geographic

Nia Faye was also born at our Breeding Facility in 2009. We affectionately call her our “wild child”.  She took a lot of work, but she is a great ambassador and is rivaling Sara in speed.

Nia Faye

Nia Faye

Born in 2012, Savanna is our youngest ambassador.  She was the cheetah featured with Zoo Director, Thane Maynard, on the Today Show to promote our partnership with National Geographic Magazine. Watch the video here.



Savanna on Today Show

Savanna on Today Show

Supporting Cheetah Conservation

In addition to spreading awareness, the CAP also collects donations for The Angel Fund to support cheetah conservation. For 12 years, Cat Ambassador Program founder Cathryn Hilker and a cheetah named Angel worked together to educate people about cheetahs. Established in Angel’s memory in 1992, The Angel Fund raises funds to support a variety of cheetah conservation projects committed to saving cheetahs both in captivity and in the wild. Over the years, the Zoo and The Angel Fund has supported and participated in many cheetah conservation field projects, including but not limited to the following programs.

  • Cheetah Outreach is a community-based education program based in South Africa that conducts school presentations with ambassador cheetahs as well as teacher workshops. Cheetah Outreach also breeds Anatolian shepherd dogs and places them on South African farms to guard livestock in an effort to reduce conflict between farmers and predators.
  • The Ruaha Carnivore Project works with local communities to help develop effective conservation strategies for large carnivores in Tanzania. The mission is being achieved through targeted research and monitoring, mitigation of threats, mentorship, training and community outreach.
  • Cheetah Conservation Botswana aims to preserve the nation’s cheetah population through scientific research, community outreach and education, working with rural communities to promote coexistence with Botswana’s rich diversity of predator species.

A Leader in Cheetah Breeding

With inspiration and support from The Angel Fund, the Zoo also has become a leader in captive cheetah breeding. Since 2002, 41 cubs have been produced at the Zoo’s off-site Cheetah Breeding Facility in Clermont County. The Zoo is one of nine AZA-accredited institutions that participate in a cheetah Breeding Center Coalition (BCC). Working closely with the Cheetah Species Survival Plan, the BCC’s goal is to create a sustainable cheetah population that will prevent extinction of the world’s fastest land animal.

One of the many litters of cheetah cubs born at the Zoo's Breeding Facility (Photo: Dave Jenike)

One of the many litters of cheetah cubs born at the Zoo’s Breeding Facility (Photo: Dave Jenike)

You Can Help

Want to help us save cheetahs? Consider donating to The Angel Fund!

December 4, 2014   1 Comment

Lion Keeper’s Blog: “Meanwhile, Across the Hall…”

We’ve gotten a lot of questions about John’s role now that the cubs are here. Here’s some important background information and a quick update to fill you in on the proud new papa!

Ever since he came to live at the Cincinnati Zoo, John’s keepers immediately recognized his penchant for routine. Consistency seemed to be the key to success in many aspects of John’s life. In training and developing his comfort level on exhibit, we found that if we kept things predictable and the same, day after day, John seemed to thrive.


But it goes without saying that the biggest impact on John’s life in Cincinnati came in the form of a sassy young lioness from the St. Louis Zoo. Ever since the two were introduced back on April 30th of this year, John has been enamored with Imani. Always the more codependent of the two, John never let Imani out of his sight, but always respected her need for a little space. He could usually be found laying in her immediate vicinity and staring in her general direction. If keepers ever separated the two (either for training sessions or to give Imani a little “alone time”), John would call out to her and search the exhibit for his missing companion.

Never fond of being on his own, John’s affinity for Imani presented a potential problem once we suspected that Imani might be pregnant. In the wild, when female lionesses are about to give birth, they will usually remove themselves from the pride in order to have their cubs in a more private and secluded area. Often the female and her cubs will not rejoin the pride until the cubs are between 6 and 8 weeks old. We knew that as the time came near, Imani would need to be separated from John in order for her to feel she had the privacy and seclusion she would need during that time. For his keepers, the thought of disrupting John’s routine and keeping him separated from Imani for any length of time was disheartening.

Would John’s instincts kick in? How would he handle the separation and break in routine? Keepers had no way of knowing how John would react to all the changes on the horizon, so we began planning and prepping several months in advance to help John to be as happy and content as possible once the cubs arrived.

Back in August, when we first suspected that Imani might be pregnant, we began a “desensitization” process with John. We had to help John to become confident and content in Imani’s absence so that when the cubs arrived, the separation wouldn’t be so traumatic for him. We utilized a number of training techniques to help us accomplish our goal. We started out small, separating John and Imani for short amounts of time (lasting 15 minutes at first and working our way up to a few hours). At first the lions were only separated by a mesh door (“Oh good, she’s right there! I can still see her!”). Then we worked our way up to a solid door between the two (“Hmm… I can still smell her and hear her. Imani must not be far away.”) Next we worked on keeping one lion inside and shifting one out on exhibit. The final step was housing John in his “Daddy Quarters” across the hall from Imani’s “Birthing/Denning Area” overnight.


Each time that we separated John from Imani, we always paired the separation with something positive that John loved. We would make sure he had his favorite foods (guinea pigs and rabbits!), his favorite toys (his “Weeble” toy and his mini-keg), or his favorite smells (green tea and elephant toe-nail clippings!) to keep his mind and body occupied. By pairing the separations with all of these really positive things, we were able to help John cope with the change in routine and even develop his independence! Before long, John began to understand that being alone wasn’t such a bad thing, and he would always see Imani again soon.

As any father can attest to, something happens when you become a dad. The life you once knew ceases to exist, and whether you like it or not, your progeny become the focus of the world. The same has been true for John ever since the evening of November 13th.

That night, John sat across the hall staring intently in the direction of Imani’s birthing den. The majority of the front of Imani’s den had been covered (so that she could feel secure), but a small window was left nearest John’s enclosure so that she could peek out. And if John laid in just the right spot in his enclosure and tilted his head at just the right angle, he could catch glimpses of Imani inside. Thanks to additional surveillance cameras mounted inside the lion building, keepers were able to observe John as well as Imani from a remote location. On that night, John sat quietly across the hall with his paws folded in front of him and watched and listened to the birth of his cubs.

John has been absolutely stellar ever since. He sits and stares in the direction of Imani and the cubs for most of his waking hours, and he sleeps in the enclosure nearest his new family. He definitely seems aware that something important and life-changing has happened, but it’s difficult to say whether or not he understands he’s a dad. He seems to instinctively understand that his role at this time is to just stay across the hall and be calm and quiet for a while. On the warmer days, we’ve been able to shift John on exhibit for a few hours so that he can get some sunshine and exercise, but he always comes running back inside to make sure Imani and the cubs are right where he left them.


Keepers are providing John with all of his favorite things as he waits patiently across the hall to meet his family. We even sit down next to the mesh of his cage and just spend time near him and talking to him. At times he’s seemed a little bit jealous of all the attention the keepers are giving Imani and the cubs, but he’s doing his best to be supportive and low-maintenance.

Introducing the cubs to John will be a process similar to Imani and John’s first introductions. We will start out slowly. John will likely be moved into one of the neighboring enclosures on the same side of the hall as Imani and the cubs. Next we’ll set up the mesh “howdy” doors so that John can see the cubs and the cubs can see John with a safety barrier between them. Once John, Imani and the cubs seem comfortable with each other, we’ll open the howdy doors and keepers will supervise their first interactions. If all goes well, we’ll gradually increase the amount of time that John gets to spend with the cubs until eventually the whole pride will be living together full-time!

Before the introduction process starts, we will need to wait until the cubs are much bigger and stronger.  As always, a lot of the decision-making will be based on Imani’s comfort level, but if all goes according to plan, you will likely be able to see the whole family of 5 out on exhibit together this spring!

November 26, 2014   13 Comments

Animal Care Internship Program

So you want to be a zookeeper.

Fall 2014 interns hanging out with Tommy the cheetah.

Fall 2014 interns hanging out with Tommy the cheetah.

Have you always wanted to work with animals?  Do you have a passion for conservation?  If the answers are yes, then you are well on your way.  As with many careers these days, job-seeking in the zoo world has become very competitive.  It is sometimes particularly hard to get experience working with animals.  In addition, many positions require a bachelor’s degree in Zoology, Biology, or a related field of study.  The best way to get experience is to apply for an internship with animals.

The Cincinnati Zoo has recently re-vamped our animal care internship program.  The traditional internship has been reinvented as the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden Animal Keeping Training Course.  The training course lasts 16-weeks (40 hours per week unpaid, un-benefited) and occurs Summer, Fall, and Winter.  The positions encompass the education of skilled professional and technical work in the routine daily care of assigned animals, enclosures and related facilities within a particular animal department.

Summer intern Jenny training a Savanna Monitor.

Summer intern Jenny training a Savanna Monitor.

Through goals set by interns and staff, each intern follows a curriculum designed to provide a basic skill set and experience for becoming an animal keeper in an AZA institution.  Each week a new topic is presented and discussed.  Topics include (but aren’t limited to) basic husbandry, operant conditioning, enrichment, nutrition, veterinary care, public speaking and presentations, green practices and conservation, and job-seeking/interview skills.  Interns are responsible for completing 4 separate projects related directly to the animals they will be caring for.  Mid-session and final reviews are conducted in order to provide each intern with constructive feedback about their contribution to the internship.

If you think this internship matches your goals in life, you will need to meet the following requirements in order to apply: 1) Current college junior or senior working toward an animal related degree, Biology, Zoology etc.; or within one year of graduation with a related degree. 2) Demonstrate commitment to working with wildlife in a zoo setting. 3) Comfortable working with a diverse collection encompassing all classes of animals.

As testament to the strength of this training course, one of our past interns gave us this feedback: “This internship has definitely been one of the best experiences of my life!  I have learned so much thanks to the generosity and time of others.  All of the topics covered facilitated my professional growth and has solidified my desire to be a zookeeper.  This internship, with its well-developed curriculum should set the bar for internships in zoos across the country.”  Wow!  What an amazing compliment.  However, we will never rest on our laurels, continuing always to improve and modify the content in order to provide the best experience possible.

Summer intern Amanda with her enrichment project, the “Snake Slalom.”

Summer intern Amanda with her enrichment project, the “Snake Slalom.”

So if you have the desire, educational background, and commitment to work with animals in a zoo setting, apply for the Zoo’s Animal Keeping Training Course.  We are currently accepting applications for the winter section.  Check out www.cincinnatizoo.org/about-us/job-opportunities/ for more information and to apply.  This is an amazing opportunity to get animal care experience at a world class institution!

November 25, 2014   No Comments