Ajamu, Ramses, Nalah and Zola arrived in the U.S. from Africa more than six months ago, but today, the four young cheetahs made their first public appearance at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.
The cats moved slowly from their temporary habitat into their new 7,500 square-foot enclosure next to the African Overlook. But within minutes, the world’s fastest land animals showed just how quick they can be, sprinting their way around the new surroundings.
“They jump up and they play and then they plop back down again,” zoo CEO and President Barbara Baker said. “So, there’s a lot of activity in the yard and we think that will continue.”
The four cheetahs will be introduced to their new habitat slowly, taking shifts several times a day with Purdy, the zoo’s oldest cheetah, who prefers basking in the sun to roughhousing.
The exhibit has been in the works for several years and Baker said the landscapers did their best to bring a little piece of the African Savanna into the Steel City.
“This is one of the most level spots, I think, in Pittsburgh,” Baker said. “We leveled it all off because the cheetahs really love to run…At their highest speeds, they’re fabulous cats to watch.”
The cats can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in about three seconds and their tails act like rudders to steer the body through quick turns.
There are an estimated 9,000-12,000 cheetahs in the world today. Because of their dwindling numbers, the zoo hopes to mate their new felines and eventually send their offspring to others zoos across the country.
“Cheetahs are one of the most endangered species we work with and on top of that, they’re just fabulous cats,” Baker said. “So, we’re very excited about bringing them back here and developing a breeding program for them and having a really strong conservation effort on them.”
To keep the animals safe in the winter, the zoo plans to begin construction on a glass-enclosed, indoor facility for the cats in the fall.