Friday, January 9, 2009
New Evidence on Cheetah Breeding
I love cheetahs - and I have found it exceedingly thrilling to find many of them in the wild. (This photo is of three brothers I came across in Namibia). They are stunningly gorgeous animals, but endangered and in a lot of trouble for many reasons. Among them: 1) cheetahs are the least powerful of the big cats, usually hunting by day, and often losing their kills to other predators before they have time to eat; 2) cheetah hunts can be disturbed by humans due to the fact that they hunt by day and tourists are out and about and can inadvertently interfere; 3) there was a genetic bottleneck which occurred some time ago and eliminated a lot of genetic diversity, making cheetahs more susceptible to genetic problems and less likely to bounce back or adapt to environmental changes or illnesses; 4) loss of habitat; 5) hunting by humans who view the cheetah as a threat to livestock. Captive breeding programs have not been very successful.
Female cheetahs have no regular reproductive cycles. New evidence has demonstrated that a special call from a male cheetah triggers ovulation in the females. Very cool! You can real a fascinating article about it here, and have a chance to hear a recording of the call. It may not sound like what you would expect. Cheetahs have nearly chirps for calls - and they also feel surprisingly rough, not fluffy. This discovery about a link between vocalization and ovulation could help with captive breeding. I would love to see this species survive and thrive!