A single cheetah cub born at South Australia’s Monarto Safari Park is being fed and cared for by a different mother in what is believed to be an Australian first.
The cub was born to seven-year-old mum Quella earlier this month, but fears were immediately held for its survival with big cats unlikely to produce enough milk when they only deliver a single baby.
When she was abandoned by her mother, keepers and the zoo’s veterinary team took the cub into care, placing her into a humidicrib and providing round-the-clock feeding.
Fortunately, Quella’s sister Qailee gave birth to two cubs just over a week later.
Veterinary nurse and hospital manager Dianne Hakof said the team made the call to try a technique that had never been tested in Australia before: cross-fostering Quella’s cub into Qailee’s litter.
“We hand-reared the first little cub for eight days while we waited for Qailee to give birth, whilst finalising plans for the cross-fostering and ensuring Qailee had the best opportunity to rear her own litter,” she said.
“We’d never tried something like this before, we believe it is the first time it has ever been done in the Australasian region.”
But Ms Hakof said an animal sanctuary in the United States had, and mentored the SA team through the process.
Early on March 14, the single cub was placed in Qailee’s den with her new siblings.
“We didn’t want that cub smelling like us, so we rubbed some of the straw that was in the den on the single cub and we toileted the others and put some of their urine on the foster cub,” Ms Hakof said.
“Then we left and we waited. Within 24 hours, Qailee was feeding all three cubs and it was amazing.”
The zoo said the successful operation would inform its breeding program in the future.
It said cheetahs were close to extinction with only about 6000 remaining in the wild across eastern and southwestern Africa.
(Australian Associated Press)