Rare 8-Cub Cheetah Litter Unveiled in St. Louis

This photo shows 4-year-old cheetah Bingwa nursing her newborn eight cubs. Bingwa gave birth on Nov. 26, but the births weren’t announced until Jan. 3, 2018. Eight cubs are a rarity. Zoo officials say cheetah litters are typically three or four cubs. (Carolyn Kelly/Saint Louis Zoo)

ST. LOUIS (CN) – Unveiling a cheetah litter more than twice the average size, the Saint Louis Zoo touted the birth Wednesday of eight healthy cubs.

Bingwa’s litter is the first of more than 430 documented by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums where a female cheetah has produced and reared on her own a litter of eight cubs at a zoo.

Zoo officials say the cubs and mom, whose name means “champion” in Swahili, are doing well and will remain in a private, indoor facility for several months. Most cheetahs litters consist of three or four cubs.

This Dec. 18, 2017, photo shows a few of the 3-week-old cheetah cubs delivered by 4-year-old Bingwa at the Saint Louis Zoo. (Carolyn Kelly/Saint Louis Zoo)

Bingwa came to Missouri on loan from Wildlife Safari in Winston, Ore. The 4-year-old female was mated with 9-year-old Jason, on loan from White Oak Conservation in Yulee, Fla.

Zoo officials waited until Wednesday to unveil their rare litter of three males and five females, which were born on Nov. 26.

They say the litter is the result of a breeding recommendation from the AZA Cheetah Species Survival Plan, a program to manage a genetically healthy population of cheetahs in North American zoos.

Bingwa “has quickly become adept at caring for her very large litter of cubs — grooming, nursing and caring for them attentively,” said Steve Bircher, curator of mammals and carnivores at the Saint Louis Zoo, in a statement.

The Saint Louis Zoo, named America’s top free attraction and best zoo in USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards, has been a leader in cheetah reproductive research since 1974. More than 50 cubs have been born at the zoo’s breeding center.

Cheetahs hold the rank of the world’s fastest land animal. There were more than 100,000 of them in the wild 20 years ago, but today there are fewer than 10,000 cheetahs inhabiting a broad section of Africa. The journal Nature reported last month that just 43 Asiatic cheetahs are remaining in Iran.

This Dec. 18, 2017, photo shows Bingwa, a 4-year-old cheetah with her eight cubs. (Carolyn Kelly/Saint Louis Zoo)

Over the past 50 years, cheetahs have become extinct in at least 13 countries. The main causes of cheetah decline are human-cheetah conflict, interspecific competition and lack of genetic diversity.

“Cheetahs are frequently persecuted for killing livestock,” Bircher said. “Our conservation partners are finding ways to improve the lives of local herders by providing education opportunities, food and medical supplies, so they can live peacefully with cheetahs and support their protection.”

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