(has a cute fuzzy face at that site!)
Thursday, 20 November 2003
Catalyst returns to the Monarto Zoological Park near Adelaide to find out what happened to the first cheetah cubs ever born in captivity in Australia. When this story was first reported the mother Lulu had just given birth. It was such a unique event no-one was allowed to see the new born cubs. But as Jonica Newby reports the birth was just the beginning of a very uncertain future. In captivity cheetah often fail to parent their offspring, and will even eat their own young. This was the challenge that faced Rebecca Bradford, the young animal behaviourist in charge of the cheetahs. She?d already cracked one of the most intractable problems facing zoos worldwide - cheetahs simply will not breed in captivity, and how she did it is truly astonishing. But now 8 months on Jonica Newby picks up the story to find out if she?s finally solved the next problem how to help the mother successfully rear her cubs in captivity. (full transcript...)
Reporter: Jonica Newby
Producer: Andrew Holland
Rebecca Bradford Email
Monarto Zoological Park
Montaro Zoological Park
Full Program Transcript:
When we first reported this story, captive cheetahs faced a population crisis.
Worldwide, virtually none of them were breeding.
But these Adelaide cheetahs, remarkably, had recovered their sex drive.
The secret? They call it the ?catwalk? ? a breakthrough strategy that may mean the difference between having cheetahs in zoos in the future or not.
And it was made by this woman, Rebecca Bradford, visiting animal behaviourist at Monarto Open Plains zoo.
It all started when Rebecca joined the zoo and noticed the cheetahs seemed to have lost all their sex related behaviours
They just sat there ? they?d just go into the exhibit, lie down, and nothing until they basically came in to be fed again.
As is common in zoos, the males and females were all on exhibit together
Whereas in the wild, the sexes live apart.
Rebecca suspected living together might be suppressing their sexuality.
So she decided to run a test. She separated the females so they couldn?t even see the males
From then on, the males lived together as one big boy band.
Then, 1 month later, it was time for the two sexes to meet.
One at a time, Rebecca took the boys through to the catwalk area.
And the change was simply astonishing ? they had all the signs of intense sexual interest.
They had drool, strings of drool coming out of their mouth so it looked like they?d swallowed a sneaker and the shoelaces were hanging out. It was just unbelievable.
But even that didn?t lead to a mating.
That?s when Rebecca decided to try one last, even more radical change.
Instead of introducing the boys one by one, she decided to run the boys through the catwalk together.
No one in the world had ever tried this method before.
And it?s totally wild.
But it worked. And in February this year, Lula mated with Induna.
I rang our director and I?m on the phone screaming to him, we have just had a mating and I?ve got it on film, sort of thing. I just went nuts.
There were cheetah cubs born in 2001 and 1996. But due to mismothering, none of them survived. If Lula?s cubs lived, they?d be the first surviving Australian born cheetahs in 15 years. But the odds were against them.
And nature was about to throw up its worst. And that?s where we left the story ? with Lula pregnant, and Rebecca on tenterhooks.
If Lula?s cubs lived, they?d be the first surviving Australian born cheetahs in 15 years. But the odds were against them. The majority of cubs born in zoos worldwide die ? due to poor mothering.
And nature was about to make the odds even worse.
The expected time of birth arrived - in a tempest.
It was just the most atrocious night // so when I got here at six o?clock the next morning I was a little bit apprehensive thinking she?s probably had them because the weather?s just been so shocking.
At first, Rebecca could barely see Lula. But then, as she shifted, Rebecca could just make out the outline of three little heads. The cubs had been born.
It?s not the best video because of just the place she was but it was just lovely to be able to see them.
But the weather just kept getting worse.
Rain poured down for days. And all the time, Lula was outside with the cubs.
It looked like their fears of bad mothering were coming true ? and the cubs would die of exposure.
But then, on day three, suddenly Lula got up and took them inside the den. For Rebecca, relief wasn?t the word.
Oh you have no idea. I got on the phone straightaway and I?m just like she?s carrying them over and it?s going really well.
But the cubs were now entering the most dangerous period. The biggest risk for cubs born in captivity is being killed and eaten in the first month of life by their own mothers.
And Rebecca couldn?t even see them. She had to trust her instincts that if she?d got the environment right, Lula would be OK. If she looked inside the den, she risked stressing Lula, and triggering the very thing she feared.
Oh unbelievably nerve racking. I spent twelve hours a day just sitting there just hoping to hear anything and just hoping to see a good sign and I?d hear chirps and I?d go ah good they?re still alive, there?s at least one still there.
Three, long, nail-biting weeks went by.
Then finally, on the second of June, the wait was over.
Out comes this little cub. and she sort of tried to grab it you know don?t go too far and looked up into the sun and probably the first time that it had seen a real good sun so it looked beautiful, absolutely beautiful.
One, two, three little cubs. They were all still alive.
And now, I?m finally getting to meet them ? the first surviving cheetah cubs in 15 years.
Wow, so these are the kids.
Aren?t they adorable? They?re just so full of energy, so full of life, they?re just loving their exhibit. It?s wonderful.
The cubs are now five months old, and developing their own personalities.
Inkosan, what does that mean? That means? little chief.
True to his name, Inkosan is the first into everything.
The first to attempt escape.
And the first to take on Rebecca?s camera.
The little girl is Nakula, meaning born in the rainy season.
Last but not least is brother Kaidi.
Kaidi loves to jump on his mums head. Don?t know why. // You know, they?re heading towards six months and he?s still on mum?s head.
As for Lula, she hasn?t put a foot wrong ? overturning the terrible record of cheetah mothers in captivity.
And to Rebecca, this extraordinary success confirms one thing - if we want cheetahs long term, it?s not enough to provide for their physical needs. We have to get the social environment right as well.
Yeah we want to let them live in as natural as an environment as we can and as happy, as they can be.
They love being together and Lula she is just the most content animal that you could ever, ever wish to see. If she could smile that?s what she?s doing.