The Bingwa Bunch

The Saint Louis Zoo’s eight 5-month-old cheetah cubs and their mother will begin to have access to the public habitat in River’s Edge Friday, May 4, during operating hours; however, there will be no set viewing schedule.

Bingwa and her cubs are exploring their habitat at their own pace and can choose if they want to come out or stay behind the scenes. Because the Zoo is dedicated to caring for animals, providing them with the option of privacy is an important part of their quality care.

The cubs — three males and five females — were born Nov. 26 at the Saint Louis Zoo River’s Edge Cheetah Survival Center. The mother and her cubs remained in their private maternity suite behind the scenes at River’s Edge for several months after the birth.

In over 430 litters documented by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), this is the first time a female cheetah has produced and reared on her own a litter of eight cubs at a zoo. The average litter size is three to four cubs.

Four-year-old Bingwa (pronounced BING-wah), which means “champion” in Swahili, continues to be an exemplary mother, according to the cheetah care team.

“She has quickly become adept at caring for her very large litter of cubs — grooming, nursing and caring for them attentively,” says Steve Bircher, curator of mammals/carnivores at the Saint Louis Zoo.

At 5 months old, the cubs now weigh about 25-30 pounds each. They were given Swahili names by the animal care staff:

• Moja (MOH-jah), female, means one.

• Mbili (BEE-lee), male, means two.

• Tatu (TAH-too), male, means three.

• Nne (NNN-eh), female, means four.

• Tano (TAH-noh), male, means five.

• Sita (SEE-tah), female, means six.

• Saba (SAH-bah), female, means seven.

• Nane (NAH-neh), female, means eight.

Bingwa is on loan to the Saint Louis Zoo from Wildlife Safari in Winston, Ore., and 9-year-old father Jason is on loan from White Oak Conservation in Yulee, Fla. The birth of these eight cubs is a result of a breeding recommendation from the AZA Cheetah Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program to manage a genetically healthy population of cheetahs in North American zoos.

“We’ve brought together cheetahs from great distances to continue this important breeding program,” says Bircher. “These handsome cats add genetic diversity to the North American Cheetah SSP population.”

Since 1974, the Zoo has been a leader in cheetah reproductive research and breeding. Over 50 cubs have been born at the Zoo’s Cheetah Survival Center.

Historically, cheetahs have ranged widely throughout Africa and Asia. Today, fewer than 8,000 cheetahs inhabit a broad section of Africa and less than 100 cheetahs remain in Iran. Over the past 50 years, cheetahs have become extinct in at least 13 countries. The main causes of cheetah decline are human-cheetah conflict, interspecific competition and lack of genetic diversity.

To help protect cheetahs in the wild, the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Center for Conservation of Carnivores in Africa is working with its partners in Tanzania and Namibia to coordinate cheetah conservation efforts, including education, research and other programs to mitigate human-cheetah conflicts.

“Cheetahs are frequently persecuted for killing livestock. Our conservation partners are finding ways to improve the lives of local herders by providing education opportunities, food and medical supplies, so they can live peacefully with cheetahs and support their protection,” says Bircher.