RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Metro Richmond Zoo welcomed 5 cheetah cubs on October 6, 2013. It represented only the third litter born in the United States this year, and the first ever for the Metro Richmond Zoo.
The cubs - 3 males and 2 females - were born to Lana, a 4-year-old first-time mom, and Kitu, a 5-year-old first-time dad, at the zoo's new cheetah breeding center.
All five cubs were deemed healthy. Zoo directors though, say the number was definitely a shock.
"She was laying there and nursing and I could see one, and then I could see a second one and then I wasn't quite sure but I thought I could see a third one and then it wasn't until later when she stood up that I saw the other two," laughed Jim Andelin, Director of the Metro Richmond Zoo. "I was pretty excited."
Despite being a first-time mom, Lana has shown excellent mothering skills and the cubs are growing rapidly under her care, according to zoo officials.
"They sleep they eat and they're just starting to explore now," said Andelin. "They've started walking a little away. What will happen is they will start driving Mom crazy going five different directions. She's trying to keep them together and so she'll be bringing them back and so that'll be fun to watch them as they grow and how mom handles five kids going different directions."
Lana and Kitu were recommended for breeding in the ZAA (Zoological Association of America) Cheetah Management Plan which is designed to ensure genetic diversity and healthy populations among zoo animals.
Cheetahs have been classified as endangered with the wild population in drastic decline. Cheetah numbers have dwindled 90% to just over 10,000 animals in small pocketed areas in Africa.
"Cheetahs are just very difficult and challenging to breed in captivity and there's so few of the population that are breeding and so this is a pretty significant event," explained Jim Andelin, Director of the Metro Richmond Zoo.
The cheetah, the world's fastest land mammal, has one of the slowest growth rates in captivity. Breeding cheetahs in captivity is very challenging with a very small portion of the population reproducing.