In 1900, over 100,000 cheetahs used to live in Africa and parts of Asia. That number has dwindled down to about 10,000 across the globe. The biggest reason for their decline is habitat destruction and poaching, which continues to threaten the cats today. Though wild cheetahs are more reproductively active than most big cats, drastically reduced genetic diversity and social habits have made breeding particularly difficult. Because the breeding is so carefully controlled, cheetahs often pick up on the pressure and become too stressed to mate.
When successful breeding does occur, it is a pretty exciting. Most recently, the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre in South Africa was able to celebrate on Monday when Meg, a female cheetah, gave birth to four cubs that each have a copy of the king cheetah gene variant.
King cheetahs are particularly rare as they have a unique pattern in their fur. It used to be believed that they were a hybrid of cheetahs and leopards, but genetic analysis revealed that a mutation caused that variation in coloring. Meg is not a king cheetah, but the father is and passed along one copy of that gene variant to the cubs. These cubs could produce king cheetah offspring if their future mates are king cheetahs or also have one copy of the gene variant.
Though the entire birthing process lasted several hours, it has been edited down. Check it out here:
The staff of the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre are not interfering with the mother and her cubs quite yet, allowing them to bond in the most natural way as possible. You can check them out on the 24-hour live webcast.
[Hat tip: Huffington Post]