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Sanctuary for Fast Cats
Texas' Wide Open Spaces Are Top Cheetah Breeding Grounds

Listen Listen to Wade Goodwyn's report on the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, and hear the purr of a cheetah.

Cheetah and cub

Cheetah and cub at Fossil Rim facility in Texas
Photo: Fossil Rim Wildlife Center

Nov. 28, 2001 -- The number of cheetahs in the African wilderness has dwindled dramatically in the last 20 years. In places such as Namibia, animal experts are working with local farmers and ranchers to save the endangered cats.

In the United States, a different battle is being waged, as zoos and wildlife preserves fight to maintain the genetic diversity of cheetahs. NPR's Wade Goodwyn traveled to one such facility in Texas, called Fossil Rim, and filed a report for All Things Considered.

About Fossil Rim's Cheetah Breeding Program

There are 59 species at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, including 13 species that are endangered -- but Fossil Rim is most famous for its work protecting and breeding cheetahs. There are more than 1,000 animals at the facility, located near Glen Rose, Texas.

Fossil Rim, which currently has 18 cheetahs and sometimes has as many as 30, is a part of the American Zoological Association's Species Survival Plan. The plan keeps track of and manages cheetah lineage.

Cheetahs are traded between zoos and other preserves to avoid inbreeding. Fossil Rim has had such success breeding cheetahs that zoos around the country send cheetahs that won't breed. Over the last 15 years, 93 cubs have been born there.

Fossil Rim is a haven for endangered wildlife -- but it's also a tourist attraction, a place where children can pet and feed dozens of animals. The facility aims to give people more information about endangered animals including the cheetah -- and perhaps help to save them.

As humans encroach on previously unpopulated parts of Africa, the cheetahs’ need for space has worked against them. They have familiar cat characteristics -- besides being incredibly fast, they are shy and sometimes a little high strung. Cheetahs also like privacy and thus they've been reluctant to breed in zoos.

But that's not been true at Fossil Rim. "We have done very well with this species, and one of the reasons is that we have so much land here," says Mary Jo Sterns, an animal care expert whose specialty is cheetahs. "We're able to offer them large areas to live and a variety of animals to live with and reproduce with -- and that's what it takes with cheetahs."

Other Resources

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center Web site

Cheetah Conservation Fund, based in Namibia

CheetahSpot.com

Cheetah Outreach, based in South Africa

Search for more broadcast coverage on wildlife.