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Wednesday 8 October 2008

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Keepers at Taronga Western Plains Zoo have been working around-the-clock to hand-raise a pair of male Cheetah cubs born in early August into the Zoo's breeding program for this critically endangered species. 

The Zoo's oldest breeding female, Malika, went into labour and gave birth to Mtoto (meaning little child in Swahili) on August 5.  Zoo vets and keepers closely monitored the situation and after ongoing observations, made the difficult decision to remove and hand-raise Mtoto the following day due to concerns for his health.  Further monitoring of Malika showed that she was still in some discomfort. On 7 August Zoo veterinarians decided to conduct an emergency caesarean and a second cub, Ushindi meaning triumphant in Swahili, was born.  Sadly Malika, who was in the later years of her breeding life, died as a result of post operative complications.

Zoo Veterinarian Dr Bonnie McMeekin said: "Keepers have had to take on the role of mother, providing round-the-clock feeding and care since they were born to ensure they have the best chance at life."

"Cheetah cubs have a high mortality in the wild during the first 12 months of their lives. In their early weeks the cubs experienced a number of health issues which were primarily the result of being orphaned at such an early age. Neither cub received sufficient colostrum, the first milk containing vital antibodies, from their mother. After managing the cubs through these health problems we have now arrived at a stage where their outlook is positive."

Cheetah Supervisor Jennifer Conaghan said: "Cheetah are notoriously hard to breed as they will only mate with physically capable and socially compatible partners.  The Zoo's keepers worked tirelessly to introduce mother Malika and father Jala and these births are an enormous achievement and a huge boost for the regional breeding program. Our staff's extensive skills in hand-raising many different species combined with the Zoo's veterinary experience has provided stability to what has been a rocky start to life for these two cubs.

"The genetics of the two cubs are very important for Cheetah as a species, which are classed as Critically Endangered, with an estimated population of less than 10,000 remaining in the world today."

"Over the coming weeks we're hopeful that the cubs will continue to gain weight and play together, assisting in developing social and co-ordination skills and natural behaviours.  Once they are old enough they will join the Zoo's breeding program."

Visitors to the zoo will be able to see the Cheetah cubs in a purpose-built nursery inside the Zoo Friends building for a short period of time each day from 11 October 2008 for approximately four weeks.

The Zoo's Cheetah breeding program has had many successes since it started.  Taronga Western Plains Zoo was the first zoo in Australia to successfully breed Cheetah and the program last produced a litter of cubs in 2004.

Taronga Western Plains Zoo is open every day from 9am - 4pm (exit gates close at 5pm).  For more information contact 02 6881 1400 or visit www.taronga.org.au. 

Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus: The fastest land animal, Cheetahs have a flexible spine which helps them run up to 114km per hour over a short distance.  Cheetahs are endangered with the estimated population of Cheetah being 10 000 with 1000 of those in captivity.  In 1990 there were approximately 100 000 Cheetah in the wild.

For more information contact Media Relations:

Ph: +61 2 6881 1413
Fax: +61 2 6884 1722
Email: wpz@zoo.nsw.gov.au

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