FRONT ROYAL, Va. — The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (NZCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia, welcomed a litter of five cheetah cubs born on Sept. 12 to an 8-year-old female named Echo. The event has been met with jubilation from conservationists and animal lovers, who can watch the new cubs via the Cheetah Cub Cam.
Echo, the mother, may occasionally move the cubs around her habitat, causing them to be temporarily out of view on the camera. The animal care staff at NZCBI have opted to minimize their interference, allowing Echo to bond with her new cubs. During a recent quick health check, the staff confirmed that the litter consists of three males and two females, all of whom appear strong, active, vocal, and well-fed.
This is Echo’s second time as a mother. She previously gave birth to a litter of four cubs in 2020. Born at White Oak Conservation in Florida in 2015, Echo has two potential sires for her new cubs, Asante or Flash. Genetic tests will be conducted when the cubs are old enough to collect blood samples.
The new litter holds significance beyond their immediate family. NZCBI is a part of the Cheetah Breeding Center Coalition, a collective of 10 cheetah breeding centers across the United States. The aim is to maintain a sustainable North American cheetah population under human care. These new cubs are a vital addition to the Cheetah Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program that determines breeding pairs based on factors like genetic makeup, health, and temperament. Since 2007, NZCBI has celebrated the births of 81 cheetahs and currently houses 30 of these fast-moving creatures.
The cubs’ genetic data will play a crucial role in population management as they will eventually enter breeding programs. As for Echo, she was trained for ultrasounds, allowing the staff to confirm her pregnancy on July 28.
Cheetahs are considered vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with only an estimated 7,000 to 7,500 remaining in the wild. They are mostly found in small, isolated populations in sub-Saharan Africa. Factors like human conflict, poaching, and loss of habitat and prey base contribute to their vulnerable status.
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute leads global efforts to conserve species and ecosystems. The institute, located on two campuses, is home to critically endangered species and has more than 300 staff and scientists working in the U.S. and in over 30 countries. Always free of charge, the Zoo’s 163-acre park in Washington, D.C., attracts families with its 2,100 animals representing 400 species, while the 3,200-acre Virginia campus focuses on breeding and veterinary research. NZCBI is a long-standing accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.