Special to the Reporter
Fossil Rim Wildlife Center on Tuesday provided a preview of its newest babies — four cheetah cubs that are only 12 days old.
"While we know within hours when a mother has produced cubs, she usually won’t let her regular care staff get close enough to see them until around day 10 or so," said Dr. Patrick R. Condy, Fossil Rim's executive director.
Three to five cubs is the standard litter size. Fossil Rim has bred the second highest number of cheetah cubs in North America after the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park.
Typically, a wild cheetah mother raises only one or two of her litter of three to five cubs. At Fossil Rim, all the cubs have a good chance of survival if the mother is committed to them, but the mothers are very sensitive to disturbance, such as stress, and will readily abandon the cubs in the first few weeks.
"So until the mother starts behaving more relaxed and allows her care-giver to get close, we stay away and hope," Dr. Condy said. "Today was the first day our care-giver got a look in the den at how many cubs she has (times four, all with fat bellies, so mom is doing a good job), though it was known 12 days ago that she had cubs."
About 10,000 years ago, the cheetah went through what is called a “genetic bottleneck” when, due to climate change, they died out naturally from most of their original African, Middle Eastern and Asian range. The modern population originates from the relatively few and mostly Africa-based survivors of that, so they have a less diverse genetic make-up which makes the modern cheetah a rather less robust species than used to be the case.
"They just don’t have that strong in-built will to live or resistance to disease that one normally associates with wildlife, so they are a rather ‘lite’ and very specialized species – it's unusual for members of the cat family to ‘chase down’ their prey," Dr. Condy said. "Most, save for the cheetah, are ‘stealth’ predators – ambush, stalk, pounce, charge."
Right now, these little balls of fur are happy to stay close to mom and get those bellies even fatter.