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There are two new arrivals at the Smithsonian Institute's National Zoo, and while they’re obviously cute and cuddly, their tale is a bit more complex.
Each was the lone member of the litter, known in the animal science world as a “singleton.” In the wild, a cheetah that gives birth to a single cub is typically unable to produce enough milk for the cub to survive. Zoo experts said those cheetahs will often allow the first cub to die, in order to breed for a larger litter.
In an effort to keep both cubs alive, biologists at the facility hand-raised the cub born to the younger mother for two weeks. They then paired him up with the other cub, and the older female, hoping it would stimulate milk production.
So far, researchers said they’ve seen both cubs nursing from 9-year-old Zazi. Adrienne Crosier, the cheetah biologist at the facility, said it's one of the few institutions in North America to successfully cross-foster cheetah cubs, adding this is a first for the Smithsonian.
The cubs’ births are also significant because cheetah births in captivity are down in the past five years. Animal care staff will continue to monitor the cubs closely in the coming weeks and months.
With the addition of the two cubs, the total at the Smithsonian’s facilities is now 13.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, cheetahs are a vulnerable species, with only 7,500 to 10,000 left in the wild.