Five endangered Northern cheetah cubs have been born at Fota Wildlife Park.
The Northern cheetah subspecies is considered endangered by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with less than 800 left in the wild.
The five cubs, made up of three females and two males, were born on August 10th to mother Grainne and father Archie.
While 12-year-old Archie is a first-time dad, four-year-old Grainne – who was born in Fota Wildlife Park – previously gave birth to a litter of three cubs on Saint Patrick’s Day last year.
The five new cubs now spend several hours a day playing with their mother in their leafy habitat on Cheetah Hill at the Co Cork visitor attraction.
Head ranger Julien Fonteneau said the birth of such a large litter of cubs is “very rare”.
“Personally this is my first time to witness the birth of such a big litter. Five cubs are certainly very rare,” he said.
“I’m thrilled to say that they all are thriving. The cubs are very active and a delight to see every day, up at the top of their habitat playing and annoying their mother Grainne, who seems to be taking it all in her stride.
“We’re asking the public to vote to name the cubs via an online form on our blog at www.fotawildlife.ie/news and to be in with a chance to win one of five conservation annual passes.”
Cheetah populations under threat
Mr Fonteneau said wild populations of cheetah “are coming under greater threat of extinction from habitat destruction and human persecution.”
Fota Wildlife Park is a conservation charity and zoological intuition that participates in European Endangered Species breeding programmes (EEP).
“These births are a great way to educate the public about the collaborative work that zoos do under the auspices of EAZA breeding programmes (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) to conserve the genetic diversity of endangered and vulnerable species, like the cheetah,” he said.
“For example, the father of the cubs, Archie, was transferred to Fota Wildlife Park from a zoological facility in Dubai to take part in the EEP here at Fota.
“The Cheetah is synonymous with Fota Wildlife Park, the image of the species is used in our logo and our director, Sean McKeown, coordinates the stud book for the breeding of the captive Northern cheetah population in European zoos.”
A total of 238 cheetahs have been born at Fota Wildlife Park since 1984.
The cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world today and has been in existence for between 3.5 and four million years — making it the oldest of Earth’s big cat living species.
It is estimated that in 1900 there were more than 100,000 cheetahs throughout Africa and Asia, but by 1975 this number had decreased to less than 20,000.
Today the wild cheetah is now mainly confined to Southern Africa, with small numbers in East and North Africa and a tiny population of less than 30 cheetah in Iran.