HOLMBERG: How to get five cheetah cubs on your first try

Posted at 11:51 PM, Oct 21, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-22 13:43:30-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- If you want to learn about the intimacies and complexities of cheetah breeding, Jim Andelin at the Richmond Metro Zoo is your man.

When his zoo tried breeding their cheetahs for the first time they got a litter of 5 cubs – three males and two females – that are all doing splendidly.

“There have been two other births in the United States this year. And one was a litter of three and one was a litter of two,” he says as he gave us a tour of his private zoo that is now very much in the public eye – and in the national news.  “So with this litter of five we’ve basically doubled the captive population” of cheetah cubs.

“I don’t know if it’s beginner’s luck,” he adds with a laugh. “We didn’t expect five. It was pretty exciting when I came out two Sundays ago” and discovered the births.

And he’s quick to credit other facilities that have been successful with breeding that he and his staff carefully studied and copied.

They’ve got roughly 160 species, more than 2,000 animals, including several male and female cheetahs, on his 120-acre zoo in far western Chesterfield County. He and his family and crew built it out of a hobby that began 20 years ago when one of his seven children’s teachers doubted the boy’s listing of the family pets.

“He said ‘moneys, deer, ostriches,’ and the teacher didn’t believe him. And he came home crying. So I took a monkey to class ,” Jim recalls as we rode a golf cart to the remote cheetah breeding facility. That visit lead to a school tour at the family place – the first of many.

“We were just flooded with people wanting to come.”  They moved out west and expanded. “Now we get over 200,000 visitors every year,” says Jim, a rugged former general contractor who has landscaped and built a vast facility that rivals many municipal zoos.

Cheetahs are an endangered species. “Down to just 10,000 cheetahs in the wild,” Jim says.  “I have a great interest in cheetah. They’re a beautiful cat. I really wanted to focus on them and see what we could do.”

The cubs, 3 males and 2 females, were born to Lana, a 4-year old first-time mom, and Kitu, a 5-year-old dad.

It started with showing Lana new enclosures. They would bring one of their males into her  enclosure when she wasn’t there to see if any sparks would fly after scenting.

Once Kitu showed some interest, they had some “fence time,” with chain link serving as escort. The females pick their mates, and after more complicated courtship, Jim and his crew determined it might be a purr-fect match.

Even though Lana is exhibiting excellent mothering skills, the cubs aren’t out of the woods yet. There’s a still a chance Lana could eat one, or they could develop some sickness or infestation. They’re being wormed Tuesday.

Once they grow a bit more, Jim plans to move them out to the zoo proper so the public can get a good luck at this rare, big brood. This isn’t about money or creating an attraction, Jim says. “These offspring, a lot of them, are unrelated to anything that’s in the country right now. So any of these cubs that we have are going to be of genetic value to the population” in the country.

“A lot of zoos don’t have the space to be able to do this. We have to space.  It was a challenge. Everybody had said how hard it they are to breed. I hope it’s not just beginner’s luck. Hopefully we know something and learned something and can do it again.”

To find out more and get directions to the zoo go to