Say ‘Cheetah’!

Rare cubs mug for Richmond Metro Zoo’s Cheetah Cam.

Metro Richmond Zoo

What’s more precious than a cheetah cub? Five cheetah cubs. And Metro Richmond Zoo in Moseley was lucky enough to welcome these fuzzy fellas Oct. 6 as one of only three cheetah litters born in U.S. captivity in 2013.

After three months of courting, mama Lana and papa Kitu produced the cubs that are the undisputed stars of Richmond Cheetah Cam, two exclusive live feeds hosted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In its first week alone, the Cheetah Cam, whose first stream went live Nov. 15, garnered nearly 100,000 page views. Fans have watched the cheetahs nurse, play and even get their first check-up. Every now and then, Lana will pick a cub up by the scruff and give it a good shake, too. Part of the secret to the Cheetah Cam’s success? It’s the only glimpse into the lives of these little Acinonyx jubati. The cubs are not currently on public display at the zoo, though a second camera was added to their wooden shelter in December.

“When we learned about the births …. we knew [the cubs] would be a perfect fit for another live cam on our website,” says Paige Mudd, senior news editor at RTD. (The newspaper hosted Eagle Cam on the James River in 2012.) The other secret to the cubs’ popularity is their rarity.

“Cheetahs are very specialized animals, with very specific needs,” says Dr. Laurie Marker, founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia. This includes their, ahem, romantic needs.

In the wild, an individual cheetah typically has a range of about 800 square miles. These solitary creatures don’t often run into each other (unless they’re related) and, when they do, that usually leads to the beginning of a love story.

To keep the intrigue alive at zoos, naturalists must compensate for lack of such space. “In captivity, we have to keep male and female cheetahs very separate from each other,” says Karen Meeks, a cheetah expert from White Oak, a rare-species breeding center in Yulee, Florida.

Metro Richmond Zoo owner and director, Jim Andelin, studied with Meeks and learned how to gradually bring the cheetah pair together. Kitu, for instance, was kept in a box for the first brief introduction.

“The general process is time-consuming,” says Andelin, “We do a lot of teasing …. The worst part about cheetahs is that they’re so prone to pseudo pregnancies, so I was not getting my hopes up.” He needn’t have worried—the cheetahs’ first attempt was a success.

And now the whole world can tune in any time of day to see what the cubs are up to.

The cheetah cubs were named after a Greater Richmond naming contest hosted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. As of the tail end of 2013, the cubs are now Chester (for Chesterfield), Richie (for Richmond), Rico (for Henrico), Hanna (for Hanover) and Amelia (for, well, Amelia).

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