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Baby cheetah at Busch Gardens makes troubles fade

TAMPA — Chaos reigned in Libya.

Radiation spread through Japan.

Storms and tornados pounded Tampa Bay. Cars flipped and skidded, roofs collapsed and streets flooded. Thunder rumbled.

Inside a room at Busch Gardens on Thursday, a 3-pound ball of spotted fluff looked around with black marble eyes. Where was that noise coming from? Oh well. Back to being awesome.

He stuck out his pink tongue and gnawed on thumbs and snuggled a stuffed cat his same size. He nudged a plastic tree and chewed a teething toy. He ran away on wobbly legs that will one day be strong.

He doesn't have a name yet. Busch Gardens will have a contest to let the public decide. For now, they're celebrating that he survived at all.

Born in a litter of four at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, his mother couldn't care for him. His siblings died, and the zoo arranged for him to go to Busch Gardens, to the new Cheetah Run habitat with a dozen other cheetahs and a roller coaster.

He eats baby formula six times a day. He will grow to about 110 pounds. The tufty baby fur on his back will fall away, leaving him sleek. He might breed, or he might just live. There are only about 12,000 cheetahs left in the wild. In a couple of weeks, park visitors will get to meet him.

He wouldn't have been outside of his den yet in nature, wouldn't have seen light. His mother would have fended off the predators.

Thursday, the park invited reporters.

Dotted with rain and facing deadlines, they were giddy. They crowded around him to coo. They uploaded shots to Facebook. While the park's assistant curator Tim Smith held the cheetah tight, reporters edged into the frame for personal pictures.

Smith understood.

"It's hard to beat a 40-day-old cheetah," he said.

The cheetah closed his eyes and fell asleep, and everyone went back out into the world.

Baby cheetah at Busch Gardens makes troubles fade 03/31/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2011 6:38pm]
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