29 March 2018

Meet the Canberra cheetah cub with humans for parents and whose best friend is a dog

| Glynis Quinlan
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A still from a video of Solo and Zama playing supplied by the National Zoo & Aquarium (video shown at the end of this article).

Meet the latest animal celebrity at the National Zoo & Aquarium – a cheetah cub named Solo who is being raised by two humans and whose best friend is a dog.

Solo and his kind may be the fastest land animals on earth, but the adorable overgrown cat has been slow to hit the spotlight at the zoo with his keepers, waiting until he was ready to meet the public eye.

Solo was given his name because he is a rare single-birth cub – with most cheetah litters ranging from three to five cubs.

Unfortunately, mothers of single cubs generally find it difficult to produce milk for just one cub and so two specialist keepers, Kyle Macdonald and Aline IJsselmuiden, were brought in to lovingly hand raise Solo instead. They live on-site at the zoo in order to give him 24-hour attention.

Sitting pretty: Solo with specialist keeper Aline IJsselmuiden. Photo by Kelly McGannon.

When Solo was one-month old, his foster family was enhanced by the addition of a stand-in sibling – a one-month-old Border Collie/Belgian Malinois puppy named Zama.

Solo and Zama have been the best of friends ever since and have rarely been apart. Not every pup can keep up with a wildcat, but Zama was specially selected because her collie genes give her the energy and determination to try to keep up with her friend while her Malinois genes add to her ability to be an intelligent and loyal companion.

A still from a video of Solo and Zama playing supplied by the National Zoo & Aquarium

The aim is to ensure that Solo receives all the love and attention he would normally receive from his mother and siblings – and Solo seems very happy with the results!

“What’s fun about Solo and Zama is that they’re able to play together as if they were litter-mates,” said specialist keeper Aline IJsselmuiden.

“With Zama by his side, he’s going to remain the confident cool cat that he is and he’ll carry on meeting people and educating the public.”

A still from a video of Solo supplied by the National Zoo & Aquarium.

Solo and Zama recently embarked on an adventure to get to know the zoo’s employees and volunteers and have just joined the zoo’s Meet-a-Cheetah program.

As of Good Friday, visitors can book a hands-on encounter with the animal pair, where a maximum of two people can spend around 15 minutes in the enclosure with Solo and Zama for $200 per person (encounters held daily). However, the Meet-a-Cheetah-Cub encounter will only last for a short period as cheetahs grow quickly.

Solo playing. Photo by Kelly McGannon.

Solo and Zama also go for a regular walk with their keepers through the pine forest in the undeveloped part of the zoo, and visitors have a chance to get in on the action there as well. As of Good Friday, visitors can book a 40-minute walk followed by a 10-minute encounter with the pair for $265 per person, with a maximum of four guests and the walks to occur only once a day.

Solo and Zama are not yet on public display and so can only be viewed through one of these encounters or by guests staying at the Jamala Wildlife Lodge. For more information about the encounters please click here.

Solo enjoying the ‘Cheetah Cub Walk’ with Aline IJsselmuiden and a new friend. Photo by Kelly McGannon.

Cheetahs are Africa’s most endangered big cats, with the total known cheetah population estimated at 7,100 cheetahs. Zoos make a significant contribution to cheetah conservation and the National Zoo & Aquarium is part of the international studbook and breeding program.

Full-grown cheetahs weigh between 35 and 65 kilograms, with young Solo currently weighing in at 11 kilograms.

A close-up of Solo, who at four months weighs 11 kilograms. Photo by Kelly McGannon.

Cheetahs can’t roar but like to purr when they are happy and content. They have a life expectancy in captivity of 12-14 years and by the time they are six months old can already reach speeds of more than 80 kilometres an hour.

Below is a short video of Solo playing with Zama supplied by the National Zoo & Aquarium.

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