International Cheetah Day

December 04, 2018

Happy International Cheetah Day! The Saint Louis Zoo is celebrating the magnificence of the cheetah, raising awareness of the threats cheetahs face in the wild and educating about amazing conservation efforts to #SaveTheCheetah! Thank you for your incredible support as we work to care for and conserve cheetahs.

This post kicks off the International Cheetah Day Keeper Facebook Takeover. I chose to share this photo of two brothers scanning their lush habitat because it has always reminded me of what a privilege it is to care for the animals here at our Zoo.

Fewer than 8,000 cheetahs remain in the wild. Conservation efforts include the Cheetah Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a cooperative population management and breeding program to ensure a long-term, healthy population of cheetahs in North American Zoos. Our Zoo actively participates in the Cheetah SSP. It is an important component of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute's Center for the Conservation of Carnivores in Africa. Our conservation work, as well as the work of our many partners, is critical to ensuring the cheetah’s race will be one of survival, not extinction.

You can learn more here: -Carrie Felsher, Carnivore Keeper. (Photo by Roger Brandt Jr.)

In the wild, a cheetah mother usually gives birth to three to five cubs, and typically, not all survive to adulthood. Bingwa, which in African Swahili means “champion,” has been an exemplary mother and provider to her eight cubs since their birth in November 2017. She’s the first cheetah to produce and rear her own litter of eight cubs at a zoo—a truly remarkable feat! Bingwa had at least 10 teats that were being used by the cubs while they were still nursing, aiding them to reach adulthood. When cheetah cubs are little, they have a strip of fur on their necks called a mantle, which helps them to camouflage in long grass and hide from predators. In the wild, their biggest threats are lions, spotted hyenas, painted dogs and leopards, depending on their location. –Jackie McGarrahan, Carnivore Keeper

By now everyone in St. Louis is familiar with “The Bingwa Bunch!” Our eight cheetah cubs just celebrated their first birthday on November 26. Bingwa is the proud mother of five girls (Nne, Saba, Sita, Nane and Moja) and three boys (Tano, Mbili and Tatu). Their names are the Swahili words for the numbers one through eight.

The first weights we got on the cubs, when they were about three weeks old, averaged to about 2 pounds each. Now the cubs weigh around 64 to 84 pounds. The smallest cubs are Tano and Nne. It is normal to have a wide range of growth in such a large litter, but each cub is growing at a healthy weight for that individual. When they were first born, they nursed and grew rapidly on Bingwa’s milk. (Yes, she nursed all eight of them! Supermom!) Now the family eats about 26 pounds of meat each day, which continues to increase as the cubs grow.

Each cub has a unique personality—some are more curious, bold, shy or laid back than the others. Still, one year later, they remain VERY hard for their keepers to tell apart because they are all quite active and, of course, they all have hair of gold, like their mother (though no curls). They will stay with mom for the first year and a half to two years of their life, so you can still visit them in River’s Edge. They are typically most active first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. –Carolyn Kelly, Carnivore Keeper

Say hello to Sadie, a female cheetah that calls the Saint Louis Zoo home. Sadie is currently the Zoo’s eldest cheetah at 13 years old, but don’t let her age fool you! Sadie is a healthy cheetah with a vibrant personality. The median life expectancy of cheetahs is 11.6 years. In the wild, cheetahs face threats such as loss of habitat due to human settlement and agriculture, persecution as livestock predators, and the illegal wildlife pet trade.

At the Saint Louis Zoo, all our cheetahs receive the best care, and in Sadie’s case, a little extra care from her keepers. In 2007 she was found to have abnormal thoracic and lumbar vertebrae during a quarantine examination. In 2015 veterinary staff learned these previous issues decreased her flexibility and ability to groom the rear half of her body. Our team worked together to train Sadie so that she would allow keepers to safely groom her unreachable areas daily, a practice that is still done today to promote her best care and welfare. - Heather Ward, Carnivore Keeper

Suseli the cheetah is the type of animal that is very distinguishable by his behavior. As keepers, we get the incredible opportunity to develop unique relationships with the animals in our care. Even if the animals are hard to tell apart by physical characteristics, we can often tell who is who simply by their behavior and personality. Cheetahs are naturally a “flight response” type of animal. They naturally want to flee from anything that could be perceived as a threat, whether that’s new people, new animals, a helicopter or even the scent of another predator. Suseli, however, has always had a unique relationship with his keepers. He is always interested in what we are doing and loves to get up in our business, which is somewhat atypical for cats in general. He is well known for following us around and being very vocal, more so than any of our other cheetahs. It’s because of this outgoing personality that makes Suseli one of my favorite animals. It’s nice to be given attention and talked to when you work by yourself all day, even if it’s from a cheetah. - Nate Aalund, Carnivore Keeper

Cheetahs are an amazing species to see in the wild, and I have the incredible position to see and work with them daily here at the Saint Louis Zoo. Out of all the cheetahs I get to work with, there is one that sticks out from everyone else, and his name is Jason (I call him J-boy). Jason is one of those cheetahs that you just cannot take your eyes off of, from his piercing eyes to his excited reaction when it’s “whole prey day,” which stimulates cheetahs’ natural feeding strategies. Jason is known for his constant purring—yes, purring! He does it when he is walking around, watching other cheetahs or when he’s just relaxing. Cheetahs cannot roar like the other big cats. A cheetah’s hyoid bone in the larynx is completely ossified (rigid), whereas this structure in the roaring big cats is incompletely ossified (flexible). Happy International Cheetah Day! – Travis Shields, Carnivore Keeper (photo by Christopher Carter).

Joey, who just celebrated his ninth birthday, came to us from the White Oak Conservation Center in 2012. Joey can often be seen resting and purring with his lifelong fence-friend, Suseli. These two males moved together to the Saint Louis Zoo on recommendations from the Cheetah SSP. Although they are not a brother coalition, they definitely enjoy living side by side as they spend time together on shared fence lines.

Coalition formation by cheetah males is remarkable because it is a naturally occurring social situation in an otherwise solitary species (lions are the only truly social big cats). The coalition is a lifelong, beneficial bond between brothers as they defend a territory, hunt and search for mates together. Prior to this coalition formation, cheetah mothers rear their young with fierce dedication for up to two years, which includes teaching her young the skills necessary for survival. When the time comes, she will leave the sibling group, and the youngsters will continue living together until the female cubs disperse. The young males then stay together for life as a coalition. Male coalitions range between two to five members and may even allow an unrelated male to gradually integrate into the coalition. Approximately 60 percent of wild male cheetahs live as lifelong coalitions. In zoos, we normally follow this natural behavior and cheetah brothers live together as coalitions.-Jeff Wilson, Carnivore Keeper (photo by Christopher Carter).

Kamaria is a striking female cheetah with dark amber eyes. She was born in 2005 at the Cincinnati Zoo, then in 2007 moved to The Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio, on a recommendation from the Cheetah SSP. At The Wilds, she met a mate and became a mother, rearing a litter successfully. The Saint Louis Zoo welcomed Kamaria in 2015. She instantly became a favorite of our Zoo photographers as she is a very elegant cheetah and her eyes certainly captivate all.

She enjoys a range of enrichment, including large piles of dried grasses, Jolly balls, boomer balls, bedding from other animals and varieties of olfactory enrichment (applying scents around an exhibit). She also enjoys chasing moving objects. Enrichment is part of daily animal care. We keepers research the natural behaviors of the animals in our care so we can provide effective enrichment items and activities, which give the animals opportunities to express a range of natural behaviors. Enrichment ensures the animals live in interesting, comforting, stimulating and changing environments. –Carrie Felsher, Carnivore Keeper (photos by Megan Turner).

A Children's Zoo Thanksgiving

November 20, 2018

Thankful Tuesday

November is a time of year when many of us reflect on things for which we are most thankful. As keepers, we are always thankful for the opportunity to take care of all our amazing animals, but this year, the animals at the Children’s Zoo decided that they wanted to share, too! #thankfultuesday #animalsalways




Hi! My name is Pablo, and I am thankful to be in the Children’s Zoo summer shows. My animal co-stars and I work really hard with our trainers to be the best performers we can be! I’ve learned how to walk on a leash and fool people into thinking I’m a dog by shaking with my hoof! When I’m not performing, you can find me in the goat habitat with all my friends. I love scratches and brushes from all our visitors.  #thankfultuesday #animalsalways




My name is Kasbeth. I am a Matschie’s tree kangaroo, and I am thankful for my hammock. Most mornings you can find me here, curled up and resting. My keepers recently gave my habitat a makeover with all new trees and branches for me to climb on, but they made sure to keep a hammock for me because they know it’s my favorite. Come by and check out my newly remodeled home. It’s just one way my keepers provide me with enrichment to keep things exciting. #thankfultuesday#animalsalways 



Hi! My name is Takoda, and I am a Harris’ hawk. I am thankful for my trainers who work with me every day. Each day, I get to fly in order to hunt for my food, just as I would in the wild! When I am not training, I get to spend time with my sister, Kohana. We enjoy the enrichment that our keepers provide for us daily. #thankfultuesday#animalsalways





Hi! My name is Hannah, and I am the Children’s Zoo dog. I am most thankful for my Forest Park walks every morning that my keepers provide. You see, after our staff meeting, I get to go on an adventure with one lucky keeper. In Forest Park, I sniff for squirrels and rabbits, dig in piles of leaves, and roll in the grass. I sure do love going on these adventures! When I am not in Forest Park, you may see me walking around the Children’s Zoo. I am part beagle, so my nose is almost always to the ground. In the summer, I am considered a star and perform in the Children’s Zoo Talent Show. I can bark, sit, lie down and spin. Hopefully you can see me perform or in Forest Park! #thankfultuesday #animalsalways


Hi! I’m Tucson, and I am a burrowing owl. I am most thankful for my adventure cart. I’m still in training, but my keepers say that one day I am going to be an ambassador animal for my species. So, every day they take me on a new adventure on my special cart. We go to classrooms and learning centers so I can prepare for my big day. I am so looking forward to meeting all the boys and girls at the Zoo and sharing with them the fun facts about my friends in the wild. #thankfultuesday #animalsalways




Hi! I’m Cyprus, a Eurasian eagle owl. I am thankful for the Horticulture team here at the Saint Louis Zoo. They make sure to save stumps and branches for me and all my feathered friends for perching in our habitats. I sure do love my stump! #thankfultuesday #animalsalways




Rainbow and Squeaky

Hi! We are Rainbow and Squeaky, and we are guinea pigs. We are thankful for our keepers because they always make sure that we have plenty of water and hay. They give us lots of love and attention, too. Our keepers are always there to help us meet all the wonderful people who come to visit us at the Children’s Zoo! #thankfultuesday#animalsalways





One Health: Connecting Animal, Human and Environmental Health

November 02, 2018

Have you ever wondered how your health and the health of animals and the environment are connected? Many of the conservation challenges that threaten wildlife species—from infectious diseases like the Zika and West Nile viruses to plastics in the oceans—also impact animal and human health.

Animal health, human health and conservation go hand-in-hand. In our work, we study all these aspects to better understand the interconnectedness of health for all life on our planet. This defines the concept of One Health. November 3 is #InternationalOneHealthDay


Human Health

One Health includes human health. Therefore, we include human health in all our studies. For example, through the St. Louis Box Turtle Project, we connect young people to nature—a known health boost. To date, the Institute for Conservation Medicine (ICM) team has taken over 1,000 students into the woods to study box turtles! The ICM team also studies how humans may have direct health benefits from a visit to the Zoo. Read about our first study, published in 2015, at the following link. We are currently analyzing data from the second study. Stay tuned—a visit to the Zoo might be just what the doctor ordered! 

Snapping Turtles

You may be familiar with the work of the Institute for Conservation Medicine and that of our partners for box turtle conservation in Forest Park. However, did you know we have expanded our research in Forest Park? We’re not just box turtles anymore! We also now study the movement and health of snapping turtles. Why such a turtle focus? Turtles and tortoises across the planet are threatened with extinction. Each species experiences similar threats, many of which come from the growing human footprint. Therefore, we want to know if snapping turtles that live in Forest Park are healthy or if they have any diseases. If you see us close to one of Forest Park’s waterways with our tracking equipment, you may just catch a beep from one of the three snapping turtles—Thor, Loki and Raptor—that have telemetry devices on their shells. 


Camels are rapidly becoming the “new cow” in northern Kenya due to their ability to thrive in drought conditions and still produce plentiful, nutritious milk. In response to this ongoing camel boom, the Institute for Conservation Medicine developed a #OneHealth project in Laikipia County, Kenya, where we have been studying the health of dromedary camels and wildlife since 2012. With the information gained, we can improve public health by raising awareness of diseases that camels can give to people through drinking unpasteurized milk. We also can use this information to help conservation by reducing the risk of camels transmitting diseases to Kenyan wildlife. Our next step is this spring when, along with collaborators from the International Livestock Research Institute and the Smithsonian Institute’s Global Health Program, we will conduct an intensive training in camel health for Kenyan veterinarians. Through this training, we can share knowledge and tools necessary to address this #OneHealth challenge facing wildlife and people in Kenya today.

ZikaZoo Project

The ZikaZoo Project is a partnership between the Institute for Conservation Medicine and Brazilian institutions. Through this project, we conduct research and provide outreach education on the importance of wild animal conservation for public health. Much of this research has focused on the risk of arbovirus infection (e.g., Zika, Chikungunya, yellow fever, dengue and West Nile virus) in wild animals in Brazil and understanding how these viruses may be shared among wildlife and humans. Another key component of the ZikaZoo Project is knowledge and cultural exchange between our U.S. and Brazilian partners. In September and October, Emily Dunay, a fourth-year University of Pennsylvania veterinary student, visited Dr. Lilian Catenacci and the team in Brazil. Emily participated in veterinary work in Brazilian zoos, field work with armadillos and pumas, and, of course, the ZikaZoo Project. Emily also gave lectures to the team and Brazilian vet students about her work as an ICM intern on human diseases that spill over into great ape populations, as well as life as a veterinary student in the U.S. The ZikaZoo Project and the sharing of next generation veterinarians, between the US and our friends in Brazil, are part of the One Health solutions that we need to address the global challenges facing animal, human and environmental health.


For us, One Health means thinking outside of the box. Animal health, human health and conservation go hand-in-hand, as we’ve explained. But what you don’t usually think of when animal conservation comes to mind is….molecules! Did you know that a lot of conservation research happens in the laboratory? One of the many disciplines involved in One Health research is molecular biology and genetics. Every organism has DNA, which can tell us a lot about its ecology, evolution and health. At the Institute for Conservation Medicine, we are using molecular tools in many of our programs. We use these tools to diagnose pathogens in our box turtles and snapping turtles from samples we’ve taken in the field. With collaborators at Washington University School of Medicine, we’ve found new viruses in free-living wild lemurs in Madagascar. We’ve also sequenced the three-toed box turtle genome, which can answer a lot of questions about population dynamics and behavior. On top of that, we have piloted our first-ever mobile molecular diagnostics lab at our research site in the Galapagos. Our plan is to be able to take this technology to all of our research sites so that we can test for disease wherever endangered species live. One Health is about using all of the tools in the toolbox, as well as working with people in different professions to ensure healthy animals and healthy people! 

The Ties That Bind

This past year in April, Institute for Conservation Medicine Director Dr. Sharon Deem gave a TEDx talk as part of the “Think Well: HealthCare Out Loud” TEDx Gateway Event at the Sheldon in downtown, St. Louis. In her talk, “One Health: The Ties That Bind,” Dr. Deem reminds us of how the health of all life is connected. From why we need bats (think margaritas!) to how plastics in the environment may change the sex of turtles. This short video is an overview of One Health, sharing examples of how the health of all life is interconnected. Most importantly, Dr. Deem provides tips on actions each of us can do—today, right now—to help wildlife species and to care for planetary health.