Chehaw cheetah dies -, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Chehaw cheetah dies

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - With information from Chehaw Park- 

Chehaw is mourning the loss of Cheetah, Mariska, who died Monday morning, one month short of her tenth birthday. Female cheetahs in captivity have a median lifespan of 10 years.

For the last year, Mariska has experienced a variety of health challenges including a decreased appetite and weight loss. After extensive veterinary testing in 2014, staff was unable to find anything conclusively wrong with her. She maintained her health through the year before beginning to sharply decline again this winter and had recently begun to refuse her food. Early Monday morning, after concluding that there was realistically no chance of a significant recovery from chronic renal failure, the extremely difficult decision was made to humanely euthanize her to prevent any further suffering.

"When there was anything new in the exhibit, whether or not it was enrichment, or if something was down there, they would stay behind, she would approach, check it out, and then she would come back and the three of them would go out together, so she was definitely the leader of the three," said Lead Zoo keeper Samantha Sassone.

Workers are making sure her sisters, Ellie and Roswell, are adjusting to her absence.

“Mariska was an incredible ambassador for her species and she will be greatly missed by staff as well as by many of the guests who came to see her throughout the years,” said Doug Porter, Executive Director.

“It was clear on Monday that it was time, and she went very peacefully,” Lead Keeper, Samantha Sassone said. “I am glad of that for her and the keepers' sakes. These decisions are never made lightly. It's about having respect for the animals we care for, and when it's necessary, we give them freedom from pain and a peaceful, dignified exit. It is always painful to lose a friend, and Mariska was a very special animal.”

Mariska was one of the three cheetah sisters who arrived at Chehaw in 2006 from the White Oak Conservation Center where they were hand raised. Zoo keepers say Mariska was popular with guests and staff- forming especially strong bonds with her keepers. Keepers describe Mariska as the most investigative and protective of the sisters. “She was definitely the alpha,” says Sassone. “Any time something new or different was put into the enclosure she would be the first one out to investigate. Once she determined everything was safe she would go back and bring her sisters out.” 

Even though she was protective, her keepers describe her as a very easy going and playful cheetah. Staff will closely monitor the two other cheetahs, Ellie and Roswell, to make sure they adjust to Mariska's absence.

Chehaw is accredited by the prestigious Association of Zoos and Aquariums, assuring the highest standards of animal care and husbandry. Chehaw is a non-profit organization located at 105 Chehaw Park Rd. and is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. 

Chehaw's vision encompasses the principles on which Chehaw was founded; conservation, education and preservation. For more information call 229.430.5275. 

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