Cheetah Cubs

cheetah cub
Photograph ©copyright Garlyn – published under creative commons license –


This is just a lovely picture of a lovely cat. Cheetah cubs have that look; pure innocence overlayed with the anticipation of a true and fantastically athletic hunter to come. It is a heady mix.

This picture was taken by the Flickr photographer Garlyn (Flickr name). She lives in Cape Town, South Africa. The photograph was taken on the Spier Wine Estate. They run a Cheetah Outreach Program in association with the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust (the Trust), which is located near or at De Wildt, South Africa (map opens in new window). The Spier Wine Estate is very near Cape Town. The two locations are about 800 miles apart. In 1997, Spier Wine Estates provided a hectare of land for the outreach program.

The Trust plays an important role in the survival of the Cheetah, an endangered species due to hunting, habitat encroachment and naturally occurring inbreeding. The Trust has a well developed breeding program (and breed the King Cheetah) and work in association with the Outreach Program who rear the Cheetah cubs as “ambassador” cats for facilities around the world. These are generally game parks and zoos as these cubs are captive-born wild cats better able to adapt to these facilities and the journey to them.

At lot of effort is put into providing the correct diet and Cheetah Outreach works with Massey University (Katherine Bell) and the Trust’s research team in this regard.

Cheetah cubs cheetah cubs
Cheetah Cubs – photo on left ©PeregrineGuy — photo on right photo ©Joachim Niemeier. Both published under a creative commons license. The cubs on the right are in Kenya.

What do they eat in the wild?

What better place to find the answer than from the people who do it day in and day out, the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust. They say that for the first 6-8 they drink their mother’s milk. Afterwards they eat meat. The mother makes the kill and then calls her cheetah cubs with a bird like call. At 9-15 months cubs begin to attempt to make their first kill until aged about 2 years when they become successful. At about 2 years their mother relinquishes responsibility and leaves her cubs.

The birth of Cheetah Cubs

Mothers come on heat throughout the year (much it seem as the domestic cat). She leaves scent through urination to attract male cheetahs. Once mated the male parts (seems bad to me). One to six kittens are born after a 91-95 day pregnancy. She will give birth in long grass or dense undergrowth (see the cheetah habitat here). You can see the thick mane of grayish hair on a cheetah cub’s back and head. The picture further down on the left shows it clearly. The mane has several functions, it is believed:

  • helps with camouflage in the long grass
  • protection against sun and rain
  • acts as a defense in mimicking a honey badger (an animal to be avoided)

The mantle begins to disappear at about 3 months. Vestiges of it, as seen in the heading picture on this page, are in the form of a mane until 2 years of age.

Cub Development

It is excruciatingly tense watching the big cat programs on television, when Cheetah cubs are left alone while their mother finds food. They are so terrifyingly vulnerable and as stated this vulnerability is translated into a very short life all to frequently for the vast majority. The mother will frequently move her cubs to reduce the risk of predators taking them. Cheetah cubs develop rapidly.

Age Event
4-10 days Eyes open
3 weeks Teeth appear
6 weeks Cubs follow mother
6 months Cubs are half their adult size
8 months Last of the milk teeth are replaced by permanent teeth
8 months Learning to hunt through play
16-18 months Mother leaves cubs. At this time they are beginner hunters.


Cub survival rates


The University of California says that the survival rate is as as low as 5%. (one in twenty). The majority are killed by Hyenas and Lions. According to a study by the University of California, the low population of the Cheetah is not due to the high mortality rate of cubs. The population can be increased if the survival of adults is increased. That means humans learning to live with the Cheetah. The biggest factor is habitat loss resulting in Cheetahs living on farmland (forced upon them) and then killed by farmers. The reason why high cub mortality is secondary to adult survival is the high reproduction rate of cats.

Adult cheetahs have no natural predators in the cheetah food chain. She is a fine hunter relying on speed. She must avoid injury to maintain her sprinting skills. The King Cheetah is a rare variety with a different coat pattern. She more pictures of the King Cheetah.


Sources:

  • http://www.dewildt.org.za (De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust)
  • Flickr (Garlyn page)
  • http://www.cheetah.co.za (Cheetah Outreach)
  • Wikipedia®
  • http://www.ucsc.edu (University of California)
  • http://www.cheetah.org

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