A rare pair of cheetah cubs have ventured outside for the first time at Longleat Safari Park.
Thirteen-week-old cubs Poppy and Winston, who were named by the public, are the first to have been born at the Wiltshire wildlife attraction, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
The pair, both still sporting Mohican-style juvenile fur, were allowed outside to explore their paddock under the watchful eye of mum Wilma.
“It’s amazing to see how fast they are developing and fascinating to watch their reactions to the outside world,” said keeper Eloise Kilbane.
“Both of them were initially a little disconcerted by the wet grass and kept trying to wipe the water off their paws. Poppy also got a leaf stuck to her back and couldn’t quite work out how to get it off!
“However it wasn’t long before they were demonstrating the cheetah’s famous turn of speed as they chased each other around,” she added.
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.
The births, which come almost five years after cheetahs first arrived at Longleat, are particularly welcome as the cubs are part of the European Endangered Species Programme.
“Both mum Wilma and dad Carl have very valuable genetics within the European population as they came to us from a captive breeding population in Pretoria, South Africa,” said Eloise.
“This means Winston and Poppy, are also genetically distinct from the vast majority of the cheetah within Europe, which means their birth is even more important” she added.
Despite being the fastest developing member of the cat family, the cubs will remain reliant on mum for up to two years.
Cheetahs are the world’s quickest land animals; capable of top speeds of 71 miles per hour. While running they can cover four strides in a second with each stride measuring up to eight metres.