The birth of four Cheetah cubs on July 24 at Zoo Basel demonstrates the importance of inter-zoo cooperation and keeper knowledge to help an endangered species reproduce.
Photo Credit: Zoo Basel
On April 24 this year, keepers noticed that instead of spitting at each other through the fence as they normally did, Cheetahs Alima and Gazembe were expressing interest in each other with loud purrs. Alima was rolling on her back, a sure sign that she was interested in a male visitor. The keepers allowed her in with the male and the two immediately began to mate.
Exactly three months later, Alima gave birth to four healthy and lively offspring. The cubs remained behind the scenes with Alima for six weeks. Now that the cubs have access to their outdoor yard, keepers report that the sisters often play until they keel over from exhaustion!
Zoo Basel participates in the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) to cooperatively manage zoo-dwelling populations of endangered and threatened animals, such as Cheetahs.
Breeding Cheetahs in zoos is notoriously difficult. Female Cheetahs are loners, and it is only during the mating season that they allow a partner to approach. For this reason, the males and females at the zoo are kept in adjacent enclosures, which allows them to leave their scent and potentially arouse interest in each other. If a female Cheetah shows interest in a male, keepers must put them together as quickly as possible. If the animals are separated too early then there may not be any offspring, and if they are separated too late they may become aggressive. Zoo keepers must therefore know their animals well and be able to interpret their behavior.
Cheetahs are classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are only about 5,000 remaining in all of Africa. Since 2013, Basel Zoo has supported the Big Life Foundation in Kenya – a successful conservation project for predators in the Amboseli National Park. The Cheetah population in this park has begun to increase again since the project was launched.
See more photos of the Cheetah sisters below.