We’re #Loud4Cheetahs, and You Can Be, Too!

Donni's catches his fuzzy "prey" after his first lure run. (Photo: Kathy Newton)
Donni’s catches his fuzzy “prey” after his first lure run. (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Written by Chelsea Wellmer, AmeriCorps Visitor Engagement Member

December 4 is International Cheetah Day! To celebrate, we wanted to provide an update on our cheetah cubs, what they’re doing to save their species, and what you can do to help them.

“The cubs are growing in leaps and bounds! They turned nine months old on November 25th and are weighing around 47 pounds each. As the Cheetah Encounter Show season has come to a close for the 2016 year, the cubs are learning all of the ins and outs of being an ambassador cheetah for the Cat Ambassador Program.

Donni has been doing on-grounds programs and is training to go on off-grounds school programs this winter. He has also been doing lure runs in the big yard, and we are building up his stamina for longer runs this spring. One big milestone for Donni was that he did his first run at the Mast Farm!

Cheetah cubs on the run! (Photo: DJJAM)
Cheetah cubs on the run! (Photo: DJJAM)

Cathryn and Willow both did their first group run in the yard. Instinctively, the cubs want to chase something that is moving, but once they caught up to it, they were unsure what to think of this fluffy dog toy. But with each run that day (they did a total of three short ones), their confidence grew.  In addition to running, another important aspect of being an ambassador cheetah is being able to walk on leash, ride in the Cheetah Encounter Show van, and go to programs. We have been working on all these skills with hopes that each one will make an appearance at a school program and help inspire hundreds of children to learn more about their natural world.

Redd is recovering well from his surgery! Did you know cheetahs had spotted skin too?

Redd has been doing great with training as well. He is able to walk on leash and ride in the van. Recently, Redd had Femoral Head and Neck Osteotomy (FHO) surgery to correct a physical abnormality that he had in his back hip. This surgery is done often in dogs.  FHO is where the damaged part of the bone is removed and there is no femur attached to the pelvis at the hip joint.  The muscles and ligaments will then hold the joint together. It has been almost two weeks since the surgery and Redd is doing very well and continues to make progress. Medvet, the same vet that performed his feeding tube surgery, was there to perform this one as well.” – Lauren Kimbro, Cat Ambassador Trainer

Now a part of the Zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program, Donni, Cathryn, Willow, and Redd have the opportunity to help educate visitors on cheetah and cat conservation.  Last year, the Cat Ambassador Program reached over 150,000 people.  This coming spring, be sure to check out the Cheetah Encounter Show; you just may see the newest stars in action! In our latest video update on the cheetah cubs, you can see how big Donni, Cathryn and Willow have grown over just a couple of months.

Cheetah (Photo: Dave Jenike)
Cheetah (Photo: Dave Jenike)

In the wild, the cheetah population has declined from around 100,000 in 1900 to an estimated 9,000 to 12,000 today. That’s a 90% population decrease in the last 100 years. The Zoo is one of nine AZA accredited facilities to participate in a cheetah Breeding Center Coalition (BCC).  The overall goal of the BCC is to work with the AZA’s Species Survival Plan to create a sustainable cheetah population and help bring cheetahs back from the brink of extinction. In May 2016, the Zoo teamed up with Wildlife Safari in Oregon to save the most genetically valuable cheetah cub in North America. These are just a few examples of the ways that the Zoo is helping save cheetahs.

aza_safe_cheetah_880x440Our efforts are just one piece of the larger cheetah conservation puzzle. Between 2010 and 2014, 46 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums reported taking part in a variety of field conservation projects benefiting cheetahs. In those five years alone, the AZA community invested over $1.2 million in cheetah conservation. Even so, the species continues to decline, suggesting the need for a new, collaborative approach.

Today, we are proud to celebrate International Cheetah Day as a part of the AZA SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction) initiative. AZA SAFE aims to bring together scientists and stakeholders in identifying threats and action steps needed to save the cheetah and implementing a Conservation Action Plan. Working together, our institutions can have a greater impact. So let’s all get #Loud4Cheetahs and tell the world that we need to act fast to save these beautiful animals! Use #Loud4Cheetahs to show your support!