After a complicated birth, the Smithsonian's National Zoo is welcoming two new cheetah cubs. The duo, born April 23, have had a hard time of it so far, especially by the standards of animals raised in captivity.
"They have been hand-raised for the past four weeks and now we are announcing them to the public," said cheetah biologist Adrienne Crosier, who helped deliver the cubs at the zoo's research facility in Front Royal, Va. a month ago.
"The first cub was born naturally," said Crosier. "The mother then stopped having contractions and any signs of being in labor."
The biologists anaesthetized the mother, and delivered three more cubs via C-section, a rare and dangerous procedure for cheetahs. Unfortunately, two of the cubs had trouble breathing, and ultimately died.
"We worked for about three hours on those cubs trying to resuscitate them," said Crosier. "We were rubbing them. Doing some chest compressions. We were able to get one cub breathing on her own."
Since then, she says the biologists have been acting like any new parents: "Pretty much bottle feeding around the clock."
And Crosier says the zoo is thrilled about its newest residents.
"They are definitely losing numbers in the wild, and that's something we're paying very close attention to. In addition to the wild population, the North American population is in trouble. So these two cubs are very important," she said. There are only about 7,500 to 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild, thanks largely to hunting and habitat loss.
Of course, preserving genetic diversity isn't the only thing that endears the young cheetah cubs to their handlers.
"They're very cute. They're very fuzzy. They're very fun to watch play with each other for sure," said Crosier.
The cheetah cubs will be on public exhibit later this summer.