WASHINGTON — A nearly 3-week-old baby cheetah that was abandoned by its mother and bottle-fed at the National Zoo’s facility in Virginia has found a new home with a cheetah foster mom and her cubs in Southern Oregon.
Officials with the National Zoo’s sister facility — the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia — said the baby cheetah made it safely to its new home at the Wildlife Safari in Winston, south of Roseburg, where it met its new cheetah family and is doing well.
And at the institute in Front Royal, officials said they also have welcomed five newborn cheetahs Tuesday. Their mother, Rosalie, went into labor and delivered the five cubs in about six hours.
Officials at the National Zoo, said the newborn cubs “look good.”
The other baby cheetah was born Sept. 16, but he was the only one of a litter of three that survived and was abandoned by its mother, 7-year-old Sukiri. Female cheetahs are “unable to care for a single cub” because they don’t have enough milk stimulation, according to Adrienne Crosier, cheetah specialist at the institute.
His mother nursed him after he was born and checked on him overnight but abandoned him the next morning.
“It sounds harsh, but it’s a very natural behavior,” Crosier said. Officials said Sukiri is “doing just fine,” and they plan to try to breed her again in the spring.
Caretakers stepped in and started bottle-feeding her cub around the clock, Crosier said. He was bottle-fed every few hours for 17 days and kept in a temperature-controlled environment, experts said.
For comfort, he was surrounded by stuffed animals so he’d “feel like he has a friend,” Crosier said. Normally cubs pile together when their mother leaves, but he didn’t have another cub to cuddle with, so “we gave him the animals,” she said.
Cheetah caretakers said they knew there was another litter of cheetahs being born soon at a breeding facility in Oregon, and they thought it would be a good match if they could get their baby cheetah to join the other newborn cubs there. So they started coordinating to take it to Oregon.
On Oct. 3, he flew on a chartered flight with caretakers to Oregon.
Crosier said it was “intense” taking a six-hour flight with a young cub that had to be fed every few hours, and she held him on her lap most of the time and warmed his bottles for each feeding.
“He was a trooper,” Crosier said.
But once they landed there was one issue — his smell.
The caretakers brought hay from the foster cheetah family’s den and put it in his carrier so they could increase his chances of being accepted by his new mom if he “smelled like a cheetah” rather than have a human scent on him, according to Crosier.
Then he met his new family.
“It was very nerve-racking to put him with another cheetah family,” Crosier said.
At first, Crosier said, he was confused when he met his new cheetah family.
“He only had one night with his own mother,” Crosier said. “It took him several hours to warm up to his new mother.”
Crosier said his new cheetah mom, Jezebel, had the “perfect temperament.”
“She was welcoming to him,” Crosier said. “She incorporated him in the group, groomed him and made sure he was warm.”
By night time, Crosier said, “he was in the pile with everybody,” sleeping with his new cheetah mom and four new siblings.
One of the biggest challenges for the baby cheetah, Crosier said, was remembering how to nurse but his instincts kicked in.
“He was used to people and to a bottle with a rubber nipple compared with a living female that has fur and is very warm,” Crosier said.
After about 24 hours, he got it.
Crosier said she’s happy he’s doing well at his new cheetah home.
“Humans are not who little cubs should be playing with,” Crosier said. “I knew this was going to be the best for him and his development.”
For cheetah cubs that are abandoned, Crosier said, there’s a better success rate of breeding later if they’re raised by a cheetah mother.
Meanwhile in Virginia, caretakers at the Smithsonian institute are watching the five newborn cheetahs and their mother Rosalie closely, as she’s a first-time mom.
”That always makes us more concerned because they don’t know what to expect, and we don’t know what to expect,” Crosier said. By midday, officials said the five cubs were nursing but cautioned that there’s a chance of mortality within the first month for cheetahs in human care.
The newborns join 26 other cheetahs at the institute, which opened in 2007 with two cheetahs. Their dad, Nick, was the first cheetah born at the breeding center in 2010.
Crosier said all the caretakers and staff are “thrilled” about the successful foster family for the baby male cheetah in Oregon and about the newborn cheetahs in Virginia.
”We’re looking forward to more cheetah cubs,” she said.