At the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC), male and female cheetahs are kept in separate enclosures in order to control breeding and gene pool mixing. When the time is right for the cheetahs to mate, the staff open up “lovers lane” an area where the female cheetahs are kept. Generally, the male will strut up and down each cage, until a female shows interest. Following this, the male will be put into the interested female’s feeding area to allow the new pair to get used to each other. After a few hours in here, the male is released into the female’s full enclosure, and the mating process will begin. As a matter of interest, the enclosures are not exactly easy to get out of high fences being just one of the deterrents that keep the animals in their enclosures.
Early one morning in February, the staff of the HESC were shocked to find Duma, one of the male cheetahs, happily sitting inside Lana’s (one of the female cheetahs) camp, acting all too innocent. The confused staff led him back into his enclosure, and carried on with their day. However, Duma’s nighttime visits continued, finally leading staff to tighten security on his enclosure. He had now rightfully earned his nickname of ‘Casanova’.
Lana, Duma’s female counterpart, carried on with life as normal, and gave none of the staff reason to give her nocturnal visits another thought. This was of course until, in early April, Licia and Jackie (two of the animal curators) were rendered speechless during their feeding routine when they found three little balls of fur in Lana’s enclosure! The news surprised all the staff, as no one had any idea Lana was even pregnant!
Cheetahs are one of the only big cats that are extremely good at hiding their pregnancies. This is partly because female cheetahs are generally solitary animals, so they still need to hunt while pregnant to feed themselves and their growing foetuses. As the cubs grow inside her, the female cheetah begins to activate a special muscle that acts as a hammock to her growing uterus, enabling her to still reach high speeds, whilst protecting her cubs. However, as the staff of the HESC found out, this also acts as a great disguise for pregnancy!
The three little cubs are now just over four weeks old, and are growing every day. When they are older, they will be released into the wild or become part of our endangered species breeding programme.
Welcome to the world, little ones!