Cheetahs in Lincoln
by Sarah Wood
In July of 2020, guests raced to meet the newest additions to Lincoln Children’s Zoo! Three cheetahs now call the Zoo home—Sita, Saba, and Nane are sisters and part of the well-known Bingwa Bunch from St. Louis. Their mother, Bingwa successfully produced and reared her litter of eight cubs; the first time in over 420 litters documented by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the average litter size being three to four cubs. The cheetahs, just over two years old and weighing about 90 pounds have had ample time to explore their new home and allow zookeepers to get to know them since their arrival at the Zoo in early October 2019.
Their names meaning six (Sita), seven (Saba) and eight (Nane) in Swahili aren’t the only differentiating things about these sisters. Each cheetah has their own distinctive personality traits. “Sita is curious, Nane is shy but enjoys watching me work, and Saba is strong and sassy,” says Emily Pasch, Lead Cheetah Keeper.
Aside from behavioral differences, each cheetah has its own individual markings on their body as well as their face. The black tear marks or malar stripes are individual to each cheetah and assist with sun glare—allowing the cheetah to see further and more clearly, much like the paint a football player may use under their eyes.
These athletes of the Savannah have non-retractable claws that act as cleats, digging into the ground to gain traction and assist with stability. Cheetahs are made for sprinting with their slender, streamlined body, flexible spine and long legs. Their long tail acts as a counterbalance while running and their over-sized lungs, heart and breathing passages allow for more oxygen to be pumped during running.
Guests have the opportunity to watch the fastest land animal sprint across a 150-foot-long run reaching speeds near 70 mph. Scheduled shows will take place in a brand-new outdoor amphitheater, complete with stadium seating, shade awnings and an audio system so that zookeepers can interact with both the animals and the guests.
When the cheetahs are not participating in a run, they have access to indoor space as well as an outdoor habitat designed with enrichment and comfort in mind. Native grasses, logs and a heated hand-carved concrete rock make ideal conditions for perching, pouncing and enrichment opportunities.