Cheetahs are difficult to breed in captivity, and the number of births has dwindled in North America over the past five years. But scientists at the National Zoo say two of their cheetahs have given birth to cubs this month.
The two cubs were born to different mothers at the zoo's facility in Front Royal, Va. -- and it was no accident. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan pairs genetically compatible animals from across the country and moves them around to breed.
It's a way to maximize genetic diversity and grow a species while keeping it's members genetically healthy. The births are also notable because usually in the wild, when a mother gives birth to only one cub -- called a singleton -- she won't be able to produce enough milk and will let it die.
Raising cubs is difficult, and it's rare for all of them to survive, so mothers find it a better use of resources to scrap a singleton and try to have a larger litter the next time around. To get around that, zoo keepers placed both cubs with one mother to simulate a larger litter and promote milk production.
Few zoos have successfully cross-fostered cubs in this way. This brings the total number of cheetahs under the zoo's care to 13.