An abandoned cheetah cub is being hand-reared by her keeper at Longleat.
The female cub, which has been nicknamed Xena after the warrior princess to mark her battling qualities, spent the first 10 days being cared for by her mum Wilma.
However she was discovered cold, weak and on her own on April 19th and, despite numerous attempts to get mother and baby back together, the decision was taken by keepers to remove the cub and attempt to rear her by hand.
Keeper Matt Cleverley, who has previously experience hand-rearing a cheetah while he was working in Africa, volunteered to look after the tiny cub along with his wife Kate, who is also a keeper at Longleat.
The cub needs to be bottle fed every four hours day and night until she is six weeks old when she will start to be weaned on to a meat diet.
“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.
This is only the second time a cheetah cub has been born at Longleat following the arrival of cubs Winston and Poppy in 2016.
The cheetah is officially classified as ‘Vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species which means it is likely to become ‘Endangered’ unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve.
In 2008 the IUCN estimated there to be around 7,500-10,000 adult cheetahs in Africa and there are concerns the numbers have decreased significantly since then.
Longleat’s cheetahs are part of the European Endangered Species Programme.