As many of you already know, Tanganyika Wildlife Park is not just a wildlife park but a world class breeding facility. We have had great success in breeding many different animals including several species of big cats. Many years ago we started breeding clouded leopards and snow leopards with great success. Cheetahs are the most difficult of all big cats to breed, and Tanganyika faced a significant challenge in learning how to reproduce these fantastic cats successfully.
Cheetahs mating is an event rarely witnessed in the wild, and literature on breeding Cheetahs is minimal. Our team went to White Oak Conservation Center to learn from them and get advice on how to build our breeding complex for the Cheetahs. The first requirement of successfully breeding Cheetahs is to house males and females separately. Before building our breeding complex, Tanganyika housed two male, and two female Cheetahs together with no breeding success. Female Cheetahs are induced ovulators, and when housed together the cats acclimate to each other and the females stop cycling.The new complex separates our males from our females, with a hallway built around the yards to allow keepers to move the male Cheetahs over to the females when its time to breed. Breeding Cheetahs is all about knowing the individual behaviors of these cats and watching their every move.
The males reactions to the scents of the females let the team know if the female cheetah is fertile. Male cheetahs will display typical behavior in the presence of a receptive female by running up and down the dividing fence, calling to her with a Stutter-bark sound. The female cheetah will deliberately urinate to attract a mate when she goes into estrus and is ready to reproduce. Researchers have found the specific bark (the stutter-bark) from a male cheetah can trigger the female reproductive system to release eggs and become fertile.
3-4 days before breeding our team will rotate the female cheetahs to new yards; this change also helps induce cycling from the excitement and change of environment. Female Cheetahs usually are solitary animals, except when raising their young. Male Cheetahs typically roam together in small groups called Coalitions. During mating, the males are continually following around the females, and stutter barking. When the coupling is completed the male and females lose interest in each other and males are no longer following the females closely or calling to her, this is the signal that he is ready to go home again.
Our cheetah complex was completed in March of 2016, our first litter was born in December of that year to parents Amira & Enzi. Taji & Askari were parents to the second litter we had the following year. Altogether we house five male Cheetahs and five female Cheetahs in our Breeding Complex. The males names are Enzi, Askari, Jacob, Edward, and Bomani and the females names are Amira, Layla, Taji, Zuri, Kasi. So far we have had 2 November & December litters. The team runs the male Cheetahs for breeding three times a year, keeping the schedule irregular that way the cheetahs don’t get too familiar with one another and stop cycling. The team also regularly goes into the yards with all of our hand-raised cheetahs to keep them familiar with the keepers and build trust. Cheetah gestation lasts 90-98 days, and each female cheetah is trained to allow keepers to feel their bellies regularly so that keepers know when they begin to develop in their pregnancies.
Our overall goal in breeding these incredible cats is to contribute to the ongoing conservation efforts for cheetah and have a real impact on the global population going forward! Once widespread across most of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, the cheetah now occupies less than 25% of their historic range. Fewer than 10,000 wild cheetah remain today, a 90% drop from their wild population in 1900. Habitat loss, conflicts with humans, and poaching for the illegal wildlife trade all represent significant threats to the world’s fastest land animal.
Successful breeding programs at Tanganyika and other facilities like Cheetah Conservation Botswana are an essential step in the conservation efforts for this incredible species. Cheetah Conservation Botswana houses 20% of the world’s remaining wild cheetah population with about 90% of those living outside of the protected area due to the wide-ranging natures of these incredible cats.
Cheetah Conservation Botswana exists thanks to the efforts and donations of a worldwide network of supporters including Tanganyika Wildlife Park, which make it possible for them to help protect this magnificent animal in the wild. If you would like to find out more about their mission and what you can do to help visit- http://www.cheetahconservationbotswana.org/