A female cheetah cub is being hand reared by her keeper at Longleat after being abandoned at just 10 days old.
The cub was being cared for by second time mum Wilma, but was discovered cold, weak and on her own. Numerous attempts were made to get mother and baby back together, but the decision was taken by keepers to remove the cub and attempt to rear her by hand.
Longleat keeper Matt Cleverley, who has experience of hand-rearing a cheetah while working in Africa, volunteered to look after the tiny cub along with his wife Kate, who is also a keeper.
The little cheetah, named Xena after the warrior princess, will need bottle feeding every four hours day and night until she is six weeks old when a meat diet will be introduced.
“No one is sure why Wilma, who was such a brilliant first time mum with cubs Winston and Poppy in 2016, should have abandoned Xena,” said Matt.
“We did everything we could to try and get her to re-bond with the baby but it wasn’t working and we were faced with an extremely difficult choice of not interfering and letting the cub die or stepping in and attempting to rear her by hand.
“It’s a huge responsibility and we’re taking it day by day but she is developing well and has already more than doubled her birth weight so we’re cautiously optimistic that she will make it.
“As with human babies she does require round the clock care and attention and Kate and myself share the duties between us.
“It does mean the cub comes home with us at the end of each day but it’s going to be very much worthwhile if we can help get her to a stage where she can fend for herself,” he added.
Longleat’s cheetahs are part of the European Endangered Species Programme. The big cat is officially classified as ‘Vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, and likely to become ‘Endangered’ unless threats to its survival improve.
For more information on visiting Longleat go to www.longleat.co.uk