It's Raining Cheetah Babies at the Smithsonian

A pack of cheetah cubs, like the one in the image above, was recently born at the Smithsonian. By GUDKOV ANDREY/Shutterstock

There's been a mini cheetah baby boom this spring at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute where two large litters were born in one week.

Three-year-old cheetah mom Happy gave birth to five healthy cubs on March 23 at the Virginia facility. A few days later, 7-year-old Miti gave birth to seven cubs. Two of the cubs were smaller and less active when they were born and didn't survive, which is common when litters are this large, reports the Smithsonian. All surviving healthy cubs are having success nursing and both mothers are doing well and are attentive to their broods. Each of the litters has two male and three female cubs.

“The average litter size is three, so this time we’ve got an incredible pile of cubs,” said Adrienne Crosier, SCBI cheetah biologist and manager of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Cheetah Species Survival Plan (SSP). “In just one week, we increased the number of cheetahs at SCBI by 50 percent. Each and every cub plays a significant role in improving the health of the population of cheetahs in human care and represents hope for the species overall.”

A lot of thought goes into the choice of mates because the breeding program is so important. Both cheetah mothers were matched with male cats that would not only help to continue genetic diversity within the population, but would also be good fits for their temperaments. Miti bred with a new father, Nick, who was the first cub born at SCBI in 2010. First-time mother Happy was matched with 10-year-old Alberto, who has now fathered five litters.

The cubs are the second generation of cheetahs born at the facility. Forty-six cubs have been born at SCBI since the cheetah breeding program started in 2010.

“One of our big goals across the population right now is to breed more new individual animals, mixing and matching more pairs to diversify the genetics as much as possible,” Crosier said. “The birth of these two litters at SCBI is really symbolic of the recent success story playing out across the country as the result of coordinated efforts and terrific communication between cheetah breeding centers.”

The cubs and their mothers are being monitored via closed-circuit camera until the babies get their first vet check-up when they're about 6 weeks old.

SCBI leads the Smithsonian’s efforts to save wildlife species from extinction while also focusing on conservation education. SCBI spearheads research programs at its headquarters in Front Royal, Virginia, where more than 20 species are bred, as well as the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites globally.