Fota Wildlife Park confirms birth of three ‘lockdown’ cheetah cubs

Over 230 cheetahs born at Fota since breeding programme started in 1985

Mother Gráinne with her three Northern cheetah cubs – yet to be named – in Fota Wildlife Park, Cork. Photograph: Darragh Kane

Mother Gráinne with her three Northern cheetah cubs – yet to be named – in Fota Wildlife Park, Cork. Photograph: Darragh Kane

 

Fota Wildlife Park is hoping its latest arrivals will help boost its visitor numbers over the summer months as it announced the birth of three new cheetah cubs during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Fota Wildlife Park director Sean McKeown on Thursday confirmed the birth of three Northern cheetah cubs to mother, Gráinne and father, Sam at the east Cork visitor attraction on St Patrick’s Day.

“We are delighted to today announce the births of these cheetah cubs – the three cubs, all male, were born on St Patrick’s Day so they are exactly 12 weeks old – sadly a fourth cub did not survive after living for only four days.”

Mr McKeown said that Gráinne was born in Fota on May 29th, 2017 and father, Sam was born on December 26th, 2015 at Wadi al Safa Wildlife Centre in Dubai, UAE and transferred to Fota in June 2017.

“Gráinne is fourth-generation captive-born, and this is her first litter, and this is Sam’s third litter of cubs and the cubs are the first fifth generation of Northern cheetah born in a zoological institution,” he said.

Mr McKeown said the cubs were still unnamed and Fota was calling on the public to suggest the names at www.fotawildlife.ie/blog and be in with a chance to win one of three year-long annual passes.

He explained that the birth of the cubs brings to over 230 the number of cheetahs born at Fota Wildlife Park since its breeding programme began in 1985 as part of an international effort to protect the species.

Cheetahs are listed globally as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and there are only 7,100 remaining in the wild, he said.

However, the Northern cheetah subspecies, which is native to north east Africa and found mainly in South Sudan and Ethiopia, is considered “endangered” as there are fewer than 800 left in the wild, he added.

“Fota Wildlife Park co-ordinates the European Breeding and management programmes for the Northern cheetah and there are currently 129 Northern cheetahs in 23 zoological institutions throughout Europe and the Middle East.”

Mr McKeown explained that the cheetah’s slender bodies, long legs and a flexible spine help it achieve speeds in excess of 100k/ph in pursuit of its prey, with its tail acting as a finely-tuned balancing aid.

But, he pointed out, the cheetah is not only the fastest land animal in the world today, it has been in existence for between 3.5 and four million years – making it the oldest of Earth’s big cat living species.

“The cheetah had one of the most extensive distributions of any living carnivore, ranging throughout Africa and Asia and it is estimated that in 1900 there were more than 100,000 cheetahs throughout Africa and Asia.

“But by 1975 this number had decreased to less than 20,000 and today there are less than 7,000 wild cheetah that are now mainly confined to Southern Africa with small numbers in east and north Africa and just 30 cheetahs in Iran. ”

Mr McKeown explained that in addition to cheetahs, Fota operates breeding programmes for a number of other globally endangered species including the Indian rhino, the Asian lion and the Sumatran tiger.

Mr McKeown said that Fota had enjoyed a very positive public and visitor feedback since it re-opened its gates on May 20th after an eight-week closure due to the Covid-19 restrictions.

However, Fota lost over €1.2 million in income during the Covid-19 closure and faced a monthly bill of over €30,000 in feeding costs alone for the hundreds of animals living in the park, he said.

“Gate receipts, entry tickets and membership sales provide the vast portion of our income which allows us to continue our conservation work and education programmes on the need to conserve our global biodiversity.

“Of course, public health, safety and adhering to the Covid-19 prevention advice is paramount here, so it is great to hear the positive feedback since we re-opened with a pre-booking online system to comply with social distancing.”

Fota Wildlife Park is open daily from 9am to last entry at 4.30pm. For time-slot bookings to visit the three Northern cheetah cubs, see www.fotawildlife.ie