December 04, 2019
Enrichment is an essential component of caring for our cheetahs. As predators, cheetahs are naturally inquisitive animals, with keen senses. Cheetah keepers at the Saint Louis Zoo encourage natural behaviors from our cheetahs by offering them novel objects, sights, smells and food items each day. Scent is a very important part of a cheetah’s world. Cheetahs leave messages for each other through “scent-marking,” aka urinating on a tree, den, fence line or other object. Keepers leave their own messages for the cheetahs by using perfume! The cats seem to prefer expensive brands, not just because they have fancy tastes, but more likely due to the higher quality “musks” and ingredients included in these scents. Spices and fresh herbs, grown in the Zoo’s garden, are also popular choices. Any cat owner knows that cats love to relax in the sun on a nice day. Our cheetahs like this, too, so keepers will often provide them with a bed of straw or wood wool. Sometimes these substrates are from another Zoo animal’s habitat, making them even more exciting (and smelly) for the cats. Cheetahs can be playful and love to swat around a hard plastic “boomer ball” or “jolly egg” toy. As true carnivores, cheetahs are notoriously picky eaters, but once a week, keepers provide large bones or rabbits for them to pique their palate and offer natural feeding strategies. Each day brings something different for both the cheetahs and their keepers. It’s our goal to give our animals the highest quality care, which includes a novel and enriching life full of discoveries, challenges, fun, and the occasional tasty bone or rabbit. #IntlCheetahDay #KeeperTakeover– Carolyn Kelly, Carnivore Keeper
Everyone knows cheetahs are the fastest land mammal, but how do they run so fast? Cheetahs are adapted to be fast and can reach speeds exceeding 60 miles an hour in three seconds! They have enlarged nasal passages, large hearts, slender bodies, long legs, a long tail, a flexible spine and unique markings on their faces. Their enlarged nasal passages allow for excess oxygen to pump through their bodies as they run. This is important because cheetahs can only reach high speeds for short periods of time, and they cannot maintain speed for extended periods. They’re sprinters, not marathon runners! This is very taxing on their body, so they need extra oxygen to help them recover so they can eat the meal they worked so hard to get. Their hearts are bigger than those of other cats to allow that oxygen to reach all of their limbs when they are running and when they are recovering. Their slender bodies, long legs and a long tail allow them to take massive strides, around 20 feet per stride, which helps them reach speed. At two points in their stride, they are actually entirely off the ground! This happens when all four legs are stretched out and again when they are tucked under the body. Their tails act as a rudder to help them change direction mid-run. As for the unique markings, how do those help? They have distinct black tear marks on their faces, which help to protect their eyes from the sun while they are focused on their prey! Have you ever watched a cheetah run? Next time, pay close attention to their heads; they stay in the same spot and do not change height as they run! – #IntlCheetahDay #KeeperTakeover -Jackie McGarrahan, Carnivore Keeper.
Cheetahs are an amazing species with a fascinating natural history. One such aspect of cheetah behavior is the formation of male cheetah coalitions. The coalition is a lifelong, beneficial bond between brothers as they live together, as well as 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 is right for the family, she will leave the sibling group, and they will continue living together until the female cubs disperse first. The male cubs stay together for life in their coalition. This is remarkable because lions are the only truly social big cats. So, this coalition formation by cheetah males is a social situation that naturally occurs in an otherwise asocial species. Wild male coalitions range between two to five members. They may even allow an unrelated male to join the coalition, and integration may be gradual. Approximately 60 percent of wild male cheetahs live as lifelong coalitions. Currently, there is a wild male coalition of five individuals in the Maasai Mara of Kenya, dubbed the “Fast Five” coalition (Tano Bora): four brothers and one unrelated male who joined them! Naturally occurring male cheetah coalition behavior serves as the model in caring for brother cheetahs in zoological environments. In fact, here at the Saint Louis Zoo, the three brothers of the “Bingwa Bunch” (eight cubs born to mom Bingwa in 2017) live together as a natural coalition! Please enjoy the photo of brother coalition Tatu, Tano and Mbili, as they explore the lush environment of their Saint Louis Zoo home. #IntlCheetahDay #KeeperTakeover - Carrie Felsher, Carnivore Keeper.