Cute Cheetah Cubs In Intensive Care At Cincinnati Zoo After Rare Cesarean Birth

Five cheetah cubs born by a rare emergency cesarean section on March 8 survived the surgery and are now in intensive care. The birth of the three male and two female cheetah cubs took place at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Nursery, after staff noticed the mother, Willow, seemed to be showing signs of distress.

The decision to perform a cesarean section on Willow, who is 5-years-old, was made by staff as a group when her behavior seemed to become “abnormal.” Dr. Mark Campbell, the director of Animal Health at the Cincinnati Zoo, said he has only performed two prior surgeries such as this on animals before in his 25 years with the zoo, and this type of surgery was his first cesarean on a cheetah.

“The decision to do the procedure is a complicated and involved discussion amongst the veterinary, curatorial and keeper staff,” Dr. Campbell said. “The procedure went well. Mom is recovering, and we’re working hard to put some weight on the premature cubs. Important benchmarks for survival of these cubs are the first week and month of life.”

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, a surgeon, assistant surgeon, anesthesiologist, veterinary technicians, and five members of the animal staff worked together to perform the cesarean section. The cheetah cubs were born at Mast Farm, the Cincinnati Zoo’s regional cheetah breeding facility in Clermont County. The cubs’ mother is still recovering from her surgery.

Over the last 10 days, the cheetah cubs are receiving around-the-clock care in the zoo’s nursery, where they’re cared for as though they were human babies. Conditions are kept sterile in the intensive care unit, and they’re being bottle fed every three hours. The cubs are estimated to remain in the nursery for eight-to-12 weeks. Zoo visitors might be able to peek in on the cubs through the nursery windows, but most of their care will be out of the sight of the public.

Due to their premature birth, zoo officials say the cheetah cubs didn’t have a chance to build up their immune systems so they aren’t able to actively fight off any infections. Dr. Campbell further explained the issues the cubs face from being born early.

“The cubs were born under difficult circumstances. For puppies and kittens the vast majority of their passive immunity comes from their mom’s milk especially the colostrum. Their immune systems are not developed very well at all at this time so they are unable to actively ward off infections. We are doing all we can to keep them healthy and strong, but it will be a challenge for these cubs moving forward.”

Cheetahs are an endangered species. Their population has shrank from 100,000 in 1900 to about 9,000 to 12,000 today, according to the zoo’s press release on Saturday. The Daily Mail reports the Cincinnati Zoo has been dubbed “The Cheetah Capital of the World.” The zoo uses education, public interpretation, and the captive cheetah breeding program in its conservation efforts.

Fifty-four cheetah cubs have been born at the zoo’s Mast Farm since it opened in 2002. The breeding of cheetahs in captivity is planned and monitored carefully. When cheetahs can choose from multiple mates, breeding is the most successful. The Cheetah Species Survival Plan has set up Regional Cheetah Breeding Facilities in zoos across the country. One of nine zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Cincinnati Zoo takes part in a Cheetah Breeding Center Coalition, which in turn works with the Cheetah Species Survival Plan.

[Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP)