Five premature cheetah cubs are fighting for their lives after being delivered by a rare caesarean section at a zoo in Cincinnati.

Vets stepped in to perform the rare procedure on their five-year-old mother Willow earlier this month.

The three males and two females are receiving around-the-clock critical care, which involves bottle feeding every three hours, in an effort to build up their strength.

“The cubs were born under difficult circumstances,” said the director of animal health at Cincinnati Zoo, Dr Mark Campbell.

Cheetah cubs Pic: Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden

Zoo visitors are allowed to peek at the cubs through nursery windows

“We are doing all we can to keep them healthy and strong, but it will be a challenge for these cubs moving forward.

“Important benchmarks for survival of these cubs are the first week and month of life.”

The cubs’ immune systems remain underdeveloped, he added, meaning they are unable to actively ward off infections.

They are expected to receive special care for the next eight to 12 weeks.

Their mother, meanwhile, is said to be recovering well from the rare procedure.

Pic: Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden

The cubs are receiving around-the-clock critical care

Dr Campbell said it was only the third caesarean section he had been involved in during his 25-year career at the zoo, one of the oldest in the United States.

Cincinnati Zoo is involved in a breed programme for captive cheetahs, which are considered an endangered species.

Fewer than 10,000 remain in 23 African countries, according to the Namibian-based Cheetah Conservation Fund.

Excessive hunting, the loss of their natural habitat and a decline in prey have caused a dramatic shrink in their population over recent decades.