Duncan C. Leggat Charitable Trust generously sponsored a second
cheetah enclosure. This was instrumental in our breeding cheetahs
for the first time in 1991, when five cubs were mother reared.
are a species benefiting from the Joint Management of Species Programme.
We have learned that the crucial thing with cheetahs is to keep"
ringing the changes " to maintain an air of novelty, and
reduce any development of a brother/sister relationship.
Jacaranda arrived in 1990 from Whipsnade Zoo, and mated with
our then resident young male. The five cubs mentioned above were
are about 100 cheetahs in zoos in the British Isles. The majority
have been bred in captivity, mostly at Whipsnade and at Fota Wildlife
Park (near Cork). 20 years ago, just a handful of cheetahs were
captive bred. Much has since been learned about their welfare and
live either on their own, or in small groups of 2-3, usually brothers
(thereby making territorial defence and hunting more efficient).
Females in captivity are kept completely separate, only being introduced
to the male, or males, to induce oestrus. Zoos work closely together
as part of a co-operative breeding programme, moving individuals
from zoo to zoo to maintain the novelty and excitement of strangeness,
and thus replicating the fundamental nature of cheetah encounters
in the wild. Using this technique, cheetah breeding in British zoos
has become far more regular.
regard to genetic variation and maximising genetic diversity, the
Species Co-ordinator - aided by computers - does his best. He is
not helped by the fact that cheetahs are in-bred, even in the wild.
It is believed that they have undergone at least 2 genetic bottlenecks
(during which the population reduces to very small numbers before
expanding again) quite naturally during the past few thousand years.
amount of genetic variation is therefore quite limited. In captive
breeding for conservation the intention is to conserve what there
is, so care goes into the selection of pairs for breeding.
with many cat species cheetahs may even then steadfastly refuse
to co-operate.Clint, a male cheetah, arrived from Edinburgh
Zoo , we hoped he would encourage Jacaranda to breed
after a gap of several years, however though the pair got on famously
they did not breed. Jacaranda died of old age in February 2001 and
Clint now waits to see if a female will be made available via the
eyes are at the front of their face - giving them overlapping fields
of vision, allowing depth perception - typical of predators.
have a mane of long hair - which they can raise in defensive threat.
Similarly, mouth opened and lips pulled up to show canine teeth
also acts as a defensive threat. The large canine teeth; needed
for killing, are found in all mammal carnivores. The coat pattern
of the cheetah is unique among cats in having so many distinct spots
while the special markings on the ears emphasize warning signals.
Their whiskers - special lengthened and stiffened hairs (vibrissae)
are sensitive to touch and air movement. Their claws - unlike those
of all other cats, are not withdrawn into the paws, but
remain like a dog's, extended. They help cheetahs sprint in pursuit
of prey (like the spiked shoes of a track runner.)
Chased Out of Africa
are about to be presented with a much more exciting task - chasing
off cheetahs in Africa.
I told you recently about dogs being specifically trained to defend
their flock from wolves in the French Alpine pastures.
Now the Namibian government is following that lead to ensure the
cheetah population does not destroy livestock.
the beginning of the 20th century, cheetahs numbered around 100,000.
Since then, they have steadily declined.
Now there are around 15,000 world-wide with a tiny population of
about 150 left in Iran and southern Russia, all that remains of
the nearly-extinct Asiatic cheetah.
Over the past two or three decades in Africa, the principal cause
of their demise in Africa has been their unfortunate habit of attacking
the livestock of farmers.
Full-grown cows and horses are too big for them, but smaller creatures
such as calves and goats are an easy target.
In Namibia, it is official government policy to provide specially-trained
Anatolian shepherd dogs - the breed we refer to as
Karabash - to chase cheetahs from the herds.
Once trained, they are so effective that there is a lengthy waiting
list for any puppies which become available.
Conception for Cheetahs?
A customer of mine solemnly says that cheetahs---female ones,
of course---can conceive and then give birth without receiving a
Is that an immaculate fact? In my book it's inconceivable, but I'm
willing to learn otherwise.
my customer the victim of a popular misconception about that most
flexible of the Felidae? Or should I enrol in the school of soft
Certainly wrong, I'm afraid. The older - very old - natural
history books are full of "myths" about cheetahs and hyaenas
(being hermaphrodite, able to change sex back and forth, etc.),
but most of these 'misunderstandings' have been straightened
out now. What is certain is that the mating of cheetahs is swift
and discreet. It is rarely witnessed. In fact, staff at Fota Wildlife
Park, near Cork in the South of Ireland, have only witnessed it
twice, and they have bred cheetahs dozens of times. The contrast
with other big cats is made even greater because they are usually
so noisy and conspicuous.
- working to save Cheetahs
about specially-trained dogs being used to protect livestock from
cheetah attacks in Namibia, prompted an interesting response. I received
an e-mail from Mrs Joanna Oliver, the chairman of AfriCat UK, an organisation
dedicated to the conservation of these magnificent animals.
She wrote: "While trained dogs can be useful in some circumstances,
they are liable to kill indigenous species, such as antelope, if not
leopard, lion and hyena will all readily kill the sheepdogs, thus
making them unsuitable for use in areas where predation also occurs
from these larger predators."AfriCat works with Namibian farmers
on a number of levels to enable them to protect their stock and
maintain a healthy cheetah population."Namibia is the world's last
stronghold for cheetah and it is vital that they are conserved efficiently."
is extremely active in Britain and it is hoped to organise several
lectures, including at least one in Scotland during 1999. The Foundation
can be found on website:
Africat Foundation aims to conserve the big cats of Africa.