PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Four young cheetahs pause in a holding area, on the cusp of a brand new life.
“We’re going to get ready to let the cheetahs out,” announces Dr. Barbara Baker, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.
A gate is lifted, and the large cats gingerly step across an encaged bridge to their new home. It’s a wide open grassland, with room to roam.
“I can’t tell them apart,” Baker says. “I’m getting better at it, but I can’t tell them apart right now.”
One way to tell the difference is by examining the thin black lines that border the face. They are like fingerprints. No two are alike.
Baker says these cheetahs are not shy about cozying up to visitors.
“These guys actually come right up to the mesh fence,” she said. “They lay down, they plop down right beside the mesh, so it will be a really nice view for people when they come to see the exhibit.”
“She actually loves cheetahs,” says visitor Jolynn Burk, holding her young daughter. “She’s always wearing cheetah clothes. She was wearing cheetah pants this morning before we came, so it’s pretty cool for us.”
Unfortunately, these cats are an endangered species.
“Their populations have really dropped, for a variety of reasons, in Africa,” Baker says. “So this is an animal we really want to focus on. To top that off, they’re drop dead gorgeous animals. They’re just beautiful cats. And we’re blessed with having four cats here that are incredibly active, incredibly personable confident cats that are really active out in the yard, and I think they’ll be great.”
A cheetah can go from zero to 60-plus in three seconds, and they can turn on a dime. Another interesting fact: they don’t growl. They chirp!
Baker says the two males and two females won’t always be together.
“We’ll be splitting them up to make breeding groups, one at our conservation center in Somerset.”
Until then, it’s play time.
“They’re youngsters, you know, and on top of that, there’s four of them,” the zoo president says. “So that makes a tremendous amount of activity. They’re running around right now. It’s a lot of fun.”