Siri (meaning ‘secret’ in Swahili) was the only cub born on the 21st May 2015 to experienced mother Halla. Cheetahs are usually born in litters of three to five cubs. When a single cub is born, the mother can often reject the cub as the chance of a single cub surviving in the wild is low. Zoo Keeper Linda Matthews said: “We were on alert when we knew there was only one cub, and after 24hrs based on what we were seeing, we intervened to give Siri the best chance of survival. "Cheetahs are classified as vulnerable in the wild, and every birth is important. Although hand-raising can be challenging, as a strong female cub, Siri may one day have a very important role to play for her species as part of the regional breeding program.”
For the first six weeks keepers cared for Siri around the clock, developing a strong bond with the cub. At eight weeks of age, keepers and vets decided to introduce a companion puppy to help Siri develop her animal instincts and learn natural social interaction. A 7-week-old retriever cross mastiff puppy named Iris has been gradually introduced for short play sessions 2 – 3 times day. Iris will be Siri’s companion during the cat’s early development. Siri is wary of Iris, however Keeper Linda says “With every play session they seem to be improving their relationship. Siri can be a bit of a drama queen, she makes loud noises and swipes at Iris, but she keeps coming back for more play time.”
Cheetahs are notoriously difficult to breed, so every birth is extremely valuable to the global population given the low numbers in the wild. Taronga Western Plains Zoo was the first in Australia to successfully breed Cheetah, with litters in 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2013. This success is a testament to the animal husbandry expertise and experience of staff at the Zoo.
Cheetahs once ranged from Bengal to Capetown but the estimated 10,000 remaining, down from 100,000 a century ago, are now found mostly in Africa.