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First wild cheetah cubs born in UAE in four decades

By Mark Tutton for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cheetah cubs born at the Arabian Wildlife Park, on Sir Bani Yas island
  • Cheetahs have been extinct in the peninsula since 1972
  • It is hoped they will control the population of the park's 5,000 native animals

London, England (CNN) -- Four cheetah cubs have been born at a nature reserve in the UAE -- the first cheetahs born in the wild in the region since the animal became extinct in the Arabian Peninsula in 1972.

The cubs were born on Sir Bani Yas island, eight kilometers off the mainland and 255 kilometers west of the city of Abu Dhabi. A private wildlife reserve was established on the island in 1971 by the late founder and former president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

It is now being developed by Abu Dhabi's Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), which has allocated nearly half the island to its Arabian Wildlife Park, for breeding and conserving animals indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula.

Last year, two captive-bred male cheetahs and one adult female cheetah were brought to the island and released into the 4,100-hectare park, fitted with radio collars.

Marius Prinsloo, TDIC's Conservation and Agricultural Services manager, told CNN "The cheetahs are of the Northern sub species, which is probably closest living relative to the one that went extinct in the UAE."

While the cheetahs brought to the island had to be trained to fend for themselves in the wildlife park, the cubs were born free.

They are now moving down the mountain and are beginning to wander around with their mother.
--Marius Prinsloo, TDIC
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"The babies are true wild animals, born in the wild and raised in the wild," said Prinsloo. "There's no human interference. They're actually quite scared of humans because they don't see them.

"We observe them from a distance, we don't interfere with the mother or interact with them. They're being raised as true wild cheetahs by their mother."

The births were part of a breeding program, with the TDIC working alongside the European Endangered Species Program and European Association of Zoos and Aquaria.

The TDIC will share their information and the cheetahs' gene pool with breeding programs in Europe and the United States.

Prinsloo said survival rates for cheetah cubs are very low, both in the wild and in captivity, but the mother, Safira, has been doing an impressive job of taking care of her cubs.

"They are now moving down the mountain [where they were born], and are beginning to wander around with their mother. She will teach them to hunt when they get stronger," he said.

There are fewer than 10,000 wild cheetahs left worldwide, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the Northern cheetah is critically endangered in its natural habitat of north-east Africa, Prinsloo told CNN.

It is hoped the cheetahs will provide a natural population control for the park's 5,000 native animals, which include Sand Gazelle and Arabian Oryx.

They will be helped by the park's striped hyenas -- a species critically endangered in the Arabian Peninsula. Captive-bred hyenas were introduced to the park last year and two cubs were born on the island earlier this year.

The TDIC hopes the Arabian Wildlife Park will be a tourist draw and said 25,000 visitors stayed on the island in 2009 -- its first year open to the public.

 
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