A cheetah in the Masai Mara that recently gave birth to a record seven cubs has gotten human help to keep the septuplets alive.
The feline joined a rare league of cheetahs that have birthed a giant litter in the wild where the average litter size is between three to five cubs.
The highest recorded number of cubs born in a single birth is eight. The record was posted last year by a cheetah named Bingwa at the St Louis Zoo, Missouri, in the US.
Masai Mara National Reserve Senior Warden Edward Nkoitoi said such births are uncommon especially in the wild where cubs face pressure from hyenas, lions and jackals.
“It is a rare phenomenon and through concerted efforts, we are managing to help the mother cheetah protect her large litter from predators as she gains enough strength to balance between keeping them safe and hunting,” Mr Nkoitoi said.
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The warder revealed that the cheetah family has been under 24-hour surveillance for the past six weeks as part of efforts to help nurture the cubs.
Cheetahs are usually solitary animals, with males and females only coming together to mate. Females then raise the cubs on their own despite the dangers posed by bigger cats and other hunters.
“I have been keeping watch and although it is a tough exercise, it is worth it. We have to keep vehicles away to give the cheetah privacy to leave the cubs so that she can go out and hunt,” said Nkoitoi.
In the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, it is estimated that there are approximately 300 cheetahs, a population that has been on the decline largely because of predation.
Cheetahs, according to the International Union of Nature and Conservation (IUCN), are vulnerable and the global population is estimated to be 6,674 animals.
In eastern Africa, cheetahs are known to occur in only six per cent of their historical range with the largest populations found in the Masai Mara and Serengeti.
“We cannot exactly point out the population of cheetahs within the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem but we are trying the best we can to boost survival of these vulnerable species whose population has been decreasing globally,” said Nkoitoi.
According to the IUCN, the population of the world’s fastest land animal has suffered a dramatic 90 per cent decline over the past century, leading to its extinction in 18 countries that are part of its original range.
The alarming drop is attributed to severe habitat loss, over-hunting and poor breeding in captivity.
The exciting news of the cheetah family comes months after conservation organisations raised the alarm over the trafficking of the feline from East Africa through Somaliland to meet demand for a vibrant pet trade in Arab countries.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund and Four Paws revealed that even with their dwindling population, an estimated 300 cheetahs are poached and smuggled into the Arabian Peninsula each year.
“Cheetah cubs are captured from the wild and then smuggled through the Horn of Africa, destined primarily for the Middle East, where demand is the highest. The Cheetah Conservation Fund estimates that only one in six cubs survives the journey to buyers,” the organisation said last month.
In the Middle East, the cheetah pet trade is thriving due to high demand of the wild animals as status symbol pets. This is despite the fact that trading in cheetahs is prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.