Montpellier Zoo: Three new cheetahs were born and they are doing well

Three baby cheetahs at the Montpellier Zoo (©City of Montpellier)

Pink notebook (again) on Montpellier Lunaret Zoo : this Tuesday, the city government is pleased to announce the birth of three cheetah cubs. Introducing Duma, Demba and Djehuti who are doing well.

Bastet, a young female born at the park in 2018, gave birth to her first litter on October 20. Three cheetah cubs and their mother are doing very well, the latter is especially attentive to her cubs.

They will go out into their enclosure and explore it after they are more confident in their house and airlock on sunny days. Visitors will be excited to discover these three little fluffy balls.

Ex-situ conservation

Lunaret Park has been participating in the EAZA Ex-situ Conservation Program (EEP) for South African cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus jubatus) since its inception in 1992. Currently, nine adults and three cubs live in it. As part of the program and following the recommendations of its coordinator, the park managed to connect Bastet and Akin, who were mating.

After 91 days of pregnancy, Bastet gave birth to two females and a male named Duma, Jehuti and Demba in her house. Thus, Lunaret Zoo continues its mission of conserving and breeding cheetahs with the help of its breeding center, which has already allowed the birth of ten cheetahs in 2018.

with mother

This year’s new litter is once again boosting the EEP population of this species. Young cheetahs stay with their mother until the age of their emancipation (one and a half years for males and two years for females). They can then be transferred to other zoos or left in place (as was the case with Bastet) as directed by the EEP coordinator.

There are eight parks in total

Only eight zoos this year in Europe managed to breed this species. With these new births, Montpellier Zoo confirms the know-how of its animal care team in the complex reproduction of this species, as well as the quality of the facilities created in 2015.

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European program

“EEP is a European population management program for endangered species of animals that are bred in captivity. EEP is overseen by EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and implemented by zoos that are members of the association. Their goals are to maintain genetically diverse and viable populations that can, in the long term, allow for reintroduction into the natural environment, if conditions allow,” explains the City of Montpellier.

The population management of the species in the EEP is carried out by a coordinator on a European scale. This person has a genealogical and genetic register of all individuals of the species placed in the EEP. It also has access to demographic data of the managed population: births, movements, deaths. Thus, the coordinator can give instructions to the zoos participating in the EEP: relocation, recommended breeding or termination, etc.

Animals received and exchanged under the EEP do not belong to zoos, and zoos must follow the coordinator’s instructions to carry out the conservation program of the species. The Southern African Cheetah EEP started in 1992 and its current coordinator is Lars Versteeghe of Beekse Bergen Safari Park (Netherlands).

Multiple goals

The objectives of this EEP are to maintain, in the long term, an ex situ population that is demographically and genetically stable and has the wild behavior necessary for potential reintroduction following IUCN recommendations, to raise awareness of cheetah conservation, as EEP individuals are ambassadors for their relatives in situ ; to inform the public in an educational manner about cheetahs and measures for their conservation (information about the biology of the species, its behavior, threats in its environment, etc.); encourage research and funding to conserve cheetahs in their natural habitat and provide expertise for on-the-ground projects; encourage collaboration in in situ and ex situ research that can benefit wild and captive populations.

Replication of genetic lines

The population of South African cheetahs in the 106 facilities participating in the EEP is 374, including 186 males and 188 females (January 2021, EEP Annual Report). The primary objective of this EEP is to reproduce poorly represented genetic lines to increase the diversity and long-term viability of the South African cheetah population. Cooperation with the Japanese and Australian Zoo Associations (JAZA and ZAA) is also encouraged to strengthen the smaller populations housed in these areas.

A fragile and disappearing species

Once spread from Africa to the Middle East and India, the cheetah is today an endangered species classified as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. Thus, there are less than 8,000 cheetahs in the wild, and Iran’s population is less than 100 individuals, making it the last most endangered cheetah population in the world (classified as “endangered” by the IUCN).

This highly specialized hunter is vulnerable to other larger predators (hyenas, lions, leopards) that can steal its prey and kill young cheetahs. Thus, the mortality of young is high: almost 90% die before the age of three months in places where large predators are present. The species also suffered a significant loss of genetic diversity around 10,000 years ago during the last ice age: after many individuals died, the current population is derived from a small number of survivors, leading to increased inbreeding. The consequences of this loss of diversity and increased inbreeding are greater vulnerability to disease and increased mortality of the young.

Some human activities increase the vulnerability of cheetahs and threaten the survival of the species, including the reduction and fragmentation of their natural habitat in favor of pastures, roads or other structures; conflicts with pastoralists who may kill the animal to protect their herds; illegal trade for the benefit of people who want to get a pet; poaching for the skin or other parts of the animal’s body.

“The success of in situ conservation of this species, like many others, depends on the preservation of its habitat and its genetic diversity, as well as on the active participation of the local population in conservation projects,” Lunareta Zoo management assures.

Cooperation

The Cheetah Conservation Fund, founded in 1990 by Dr Laurie Marker (veterinary biologist), runs a series of programs aimed at combating the main threats to cheetahs. Based in Otchiwarongo, Namibia, it is the world’s leading organization dedicated to saving cheetahs in the wild.

CCF has a fully equipped genetics laboratory and conducts research programs in cheetah biology, ecology and genetics. These studies, which are carried out jointly by research groups and zoological parks around the world, allow us to better understand the species and thus improve its conservation programs.

What is the future?

The future of cheetahs cannot be separated from the future of local human communities, CCF offers a true sustainable development project, being part of the process of habitat conservation and restoration, working in collaboration with livestock farmers. Together, they develop and implement livestock management techniques to limit conflicts with wildlife and facilitate coexistence with predators such as cheetahs.

The association is also actively involved in training and informing breeders, teachers and children in schools, emphasizing biodiversity conservation methods and the role of cheetahs in local ecosystems. The City of Montpellier, through the Parc du Lunaret initiative, financially supports the Cheetah Conservation Fund in the form of annual donations.

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