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Posted December 4, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Seeings spots in Front Royal

10 cheetah cubs are born in Front Royal

By Katie Demeria

Ten new babies will now be calling Warren County home. Miti and Ally, cheetahs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, each gave birth to a litter in November.

With Miti's six new cubs and Ally's four, the new additions make a total of 27 cheetahs born at the institute, according to cheetah biologist Adrienne Crosier.

"These animals are amazing resources that we can study and learn from," Crosier said. "So many of the things that we can monitor in our facility here we would never be able to learn in the wild."

The work the institute is doing with Miti, Ally and the father of both litters, Barafu, will allow researchers to understand more about the species. Crosier said almost all the institute's work is done remotely, allowing the cats to give birth without interference so the information gained can be applied directly to wild cheetahs in an effort to improve the population.

"Right now there are between ten and twelve thousand cheetahs left in the world, and that's a really significant comparison to the population in the early 1900s, when there were about 100 thousand," she said. "So we've lost 90 percent of our population in one hundred years."

The goal, for Crosier, is that once grown these 10 cubs will be broken up and sent to other research facilities, ranging from those that focus on breeding to viewing facilities, such as the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

Cheetahs leave their mothers between the ages of 14 and 18 months, so the cubs will stay at the institute until at least the spring of 2015.

When exactly the cubs will be separated from their mothers depends on Miti and Ally. Once the cats hit puberty, Crosier said, the mothers may not be as tolerant of them. The way in which the litters will be divided, though, depends on the cubs' genders.

"In the wild, females always live singularly, and males stay together for life," she said. "So we try to mimic that, and that helps us break up the group."

Miti and Ally are both excellent mothers, said Crosier. This is Miti's first litter, and at six cubs, it is twice the size of an average cheetah litter. She originally gave birth to seven, but, despite biologists' efforts, one male did not survive.

"With a litter that size, it's very expected, unfortunately, that you will lose a cub," Crosier said. "Miti did an amazing job, she took excellent care of all her cubs, but he had some health challenges."

Though this is Ally's second litter, it is her first time actually raising her own cubs. She suffered from complications during her previous pregnancy and the litter had to be delivered by caesarean section. She was in intensive care for a week afterward, forcing the biologists to hand-raise her two cubs.

"It was an emergency procedure and we almost lost her, which was very scary," Crosier said. "We were able to save two of the cubs, but we did lose the other two. And then this year, she gave birth all on her own. She really is a miracle cat."

Though the cubs will remain at the institute for at least another year, Crosier said she hopes that wherever they go as adults that they will provide information not just for researchers, but for the public as well.

"They're such an awesome species, people always want to go to the zoos and see the cats," she said. "And that gives us the opportunity to educate the public about cheetahs, to teach them everything about their lives -- it's a wonderful possibility."

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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