In a first for the Saint Louis Zoo and apparently the whole North American zoo community, a cheetah has given birth to a litter of eight healthy cubs, the zoo announced Wednesday.
Four-year-old mom Bingwa has her paws full caring for the three males and five females behind the scenes at the zoo’s River’s Edge Cheetah Breeding Center after giving birth Nov. 26.
“In over 430 litters documented by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), this is the first time a female cheetah has produced and reared on her own a litter of eight cubs at a zoo,” the animal park said. “The average litter size is three to four cubs.”
It will be several months before the family goes on public display.
Bingwa is on loan from Wildlife Safari in Winston, Ore., and the father, 9-year-old Jason, is from the White Oak Conservation center in Yulee, Fla. They were paired to increase genetic diversity in the captive population under the Cheetah Species Survival Plan.
The Saint Louis Zoo has been a leader in cheetah breeding and reproductive research since 1974. More than 50 cubs have been born there.
Cheetahs live in Africa and Asia, although their numbers are dwindling and they are considered endangered. They are frequently hunted for killing livestock.
According to Big Cat Rescue, cheetahs are not among the “great cats” because they do not have a neck bone that would allow them to roar. But they are the fastest land animal, capable of briefly reaching speeds of 70 mph.
A litter of eight is a big deal, but last spring the Smithsonian’s National Zoo reported the birth of 12 cheetah cubs — to two different mothers, within one week. One litter had five healthy cubs, and the other had seven cubs, but two of those were small and they soon died.