An abandoned Cheetah cub is being hand reared by her keeper at Longleat.
The female cub has been nicknamed “Xena”, after the warrior princess, which also marks her battling qualities.
Xena spent her first ten days being cared for by her mum, Wilma. However, keepers discovered the tiny cub was cold, weak and alone on April 19. Despite numerous unsuccessful attempts to get mother and baby back together, the decision was taken by keepers to remove the cub and rear her by hand.
Keeper, Matt Cleverley, who has previously experienced hand-rearing a Cheetah while working in Africa, volunteered to look after the tiny cub. Matt’s wife, Kate, also a keeper at Longleat, also took up parenting duties.
The cub needs to be bottle-fed every four hours, day and night, until she is six weeks old. Then, she will start to be weaned on to a meat diet.
“No one is sure why Wilma, who was such a brilliant first-time mum with cubs Winston and Poppy in 2016, should have abandoned Xena,” said Matt.
“We did everything we could to try and get her to re-bond with the baby, but it wasn’t working, and we were faced with an extremely difficult choice of not interfering and letting the cub die or stepping in and attempting to rear her by hand.”
Matt continued, “It’s a huge responsibility, and we’re taking it day-by-day, but she is developing well and has already more than doubled her birth weight. So we’re cautiously optimistic that she will make it.”
“As with human babies, she does require round the clock care and attention, and Kate and myself share the duties between us.”
“It does mean the cub comes home with us at the end of each day, but it’s going to be very much worthwhile if we can help get her to a stage where she can fend for herself,” he added.
This is only the second Cheetah birth at Longleat, following the arrival of cubs Winston and Poppy in 2016.
The Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is officially classified as ‘Vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, which means it is likely to become ‘Endangered’, unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve.
In 2008, the IUCN estimated there to be around 7,500-10,000 adult Cheetahs in Africa, and there are concerns the numbers have decreased significantly since then.
Longleat’s Cheetahs are part of the European Endangered Species Programme.