Mating Behavior

Mating
Mating

Cheetahs exhibit overlapping promiscuous behavior, and can reproduce year round. This type of mating classification is characterized by females with large home ranges and fairly unpredictable daily movements. Males who exhibit this type of mating behavior normally have ranges or territories that overlap the ranges of several females. Cheetah males' territories are found in areas through which females frequently travel. As in any promiscuous mating system, males mate with many females, and visa versa.

When in season, the female will deliberately urinate near males to attract a mate. Courtship is a special time, usually taking place in the mornings or late afternoons and sometimes on moonlight nights. Oestrus or mating receptivity lasts for five to fourteen days. A male cheetah will stay with a female for 2 to 3 days, mating three to five times a day. All males in a coalition will mate.

Females and their Cubs

Cubs
Cubs

Females are polyestrous and cycle approximately every 12 days. Once females reach 13 to 16 months of age, they are sexually mature. Gestation is 90 to 95 days. A typical litter size is one to six cubs that remain dependent on their mother for over a year. Unfortunately for the cheetahs' sake, young cheetahs experience a high mortality rate (Laurenson 1994).

Born blind and relying almost exclusively on hiding from predators as protection, only about 5 percent of cubs live to be independent cats. The young cubs are covered with blue-gray fine hair on their upper bodies, while their sides, tails and bellies are covered with dark solid spots. Their growth to adulthood is marked by significant changes in their bodies. At three months they begin losing their gray hair and dark spots start to appear on their bodies. Their manes disappear after 10 weeks, when they also lose their ability to retract claws. Weighing 250 to 300 grammes at birth, the cub’s eyes open in four to 11 days and they begin to walk by 13 days. They get their first teeth by 20 days. At six weeks they follow their mother, and begin to eat meat. Then the female will bring small prey items to the cubs so that they can practice their hunting and killing techniques. Weaned at six months, the cubs leave home at 13-20 months.

Most of the cheetah cubs that die are victims of predation, and fall to Serengeti carnivores, such as the lion and hyena. The only defence the mother has is to hiss and spit or to try and lead potential cub-killers away. She will move the cubs to a new den site every five days or so. As she returns to her offspring, she will wait until dark before joining them. When prey is scarce, the cubs may be left for more than 48 hours. If their mother is unable to eat enough to meet the demands of lactation, the litter will be abandoned. Due to the high cub mortality rate, cheetahs reach maturity and have larger litter sizes than other felids. An average of four cubs is born to a litter. The cubs are blind and dependent at birth, with their mother raising them in isolation until 14 - 16 months old. Offspring are of low birth weight and litters are relatively light. It is suggested that mothers produce light litters so they do not waste energy on offspring that have a low chance of survival (Caro 1994). If the mother loses the litter she can come back into oestrus within days.

It takes about three years for a Serengeti cheetah to become a fully proficient hunter. They often fail to crouch down and so are often seen. They also run too early and abandon the chases prematurely. Female cheetahs reach sexual maturity at 22 months; males mature in about 33 months. Captive cheetahs live for more than 15 years.

Male Cheetahs

Male
A male cheetah

As with all species in the animal kingdom, the social structure of the cheetah influences the mating behavior, and visa versa. Males become sexually mature around 15 to 26 months of age. Adolescent and adult male cheetahs usually form coalitions of two or three members, and usually the members of the coalition are brothers. These coalitions wait for females to enter their territories. Males detect estrus females by smelling urine markings within their territory. All members of a group will attempt to mate with an ovulating female once she has entered the territory. A male or group of males attempting to mate will stay close to a single female. This association could last up to two days, during which the participants may hunt together (Caro 1994). Males also vocalize when attempting to mate with a female. These vocalizations include yipping, stutter calls, and even growling (Sylvie 1997). Roaming males who do not succeed in acquiring a territory may also attempt to mate, but experience reduced mating success compared to territorial males (Caro 1994 and Estes).

Gay cheetahs?

Male Cheetahs often live in permanent partnerships or COALITIONS, consisting of a pair or trio of animals: about 30 percent of these associations include animals that are not related to each other, while the remainder consist of brothers. Partners are strongly bonded to one another and probably remain together for life. Spending almost all (93 percent) of their time in each other’s company, male pair-mates frequently groom one another (licking each other’s faces and neck), defend each other in fights, and prefer resting together in close contact (even if this means that one of them will not be fully shaded against the harsh midday sun). Bonded males also become strongly distressed when separated, continuously searching and calling loudly for one another with birdlike yip or chirp calls. On being reunited, they may engage in a variety of affectionate and/or sexual activities, including reciprocal mounting with erections, face-rubbing, and STUTTERING (a purrlike vocalization often associated with sexual excitement). These activities appear to be more common between siblings than nonsiblings. Very rarely, paired males may temporarily adopt of look after lost cubs (most other parents in this species – foster or otherwise- are single parents)

Frequency: Homosexual behavior (courtship and sexual) in Cheetahs is quite frequent (at least in captive or semiwild conditions). In the wild, 27-40 percent of males live in same-sex pairs while 16-19 percent live in same sex trios. In one study, 1 out of 11 instances of foster-parenting involved a pair of males looking after a cub (representing perhaps less than 1 percent of all families, adoptive and nonadoptive).

Orientation: Male Cheetahs that participate in homosexual mounting may be bisexual, since same sex activity sometimes alternates 9 or co-occurs) with heterosexual mounting in the same session. Many male Cheetahs living in partnerships do court and mate with females. However, pairs or trios of males are only with females 9 percent of the time, and they may experience reduced heterosexual mating opportunities compared to single males. Moreover, same-sex coalitions usually constitute life-long pair-bonds (which are not found between males and females in this species).

Mating in captivity

Grumpy and Aziz were introduced at 0900 on Sunday the 1st of September, following observations that Grumpy was showing interest in the male group and was rolling at the gate separating the males and females. Aziz, a young male originating from Sudan, was displaying typical behaviour of a male cheetah in the presence of a receptive female by pacing up and down the dividing fence calling to her with a churtling sound. Once it had been established that all risks to both handlers and cheetahs had been minimized, the pair were allowed access to one another. Grumpy immediately assumed the typical crouch posture with downward curvature of the lumbar spine (lordosis) and her tail held to one side. Mating lasted for approximately two minutes, during which time Aziz mounted Grumpy and held her with the typical neck grasp seen in many species during copulation. A short fight ensued during post-coital separation and Aziz was forced to move away from Grumpy. The pair was returned to their respective groups following copulation. Introductions were continued daily until the pair no longer showed any interest in one another. A further two matings were observed during these follow-up introductions. Cheetahs are very inbred.

They are so inbred, that genetically they are almost identical. The current theory is that they became inbred when a "natural" disaster dropped their total world population down to less than seven individual cheetahs - probably about 10,000 years ago. They went through a "Genetic Bottleneck", and their genetic diversity plummeted. They survived only through brother-to-sister or parent-to-child mating.

According to the enzymes, humans rate at about 70% identical. But laboratory rats and cheetahs rate at 97% identical. Laboratory rats have been inbred for at least 20 generations of brother-to-sister mating. So cheetahs are at least as inbred as laboratory rats. Now the Hindi name for the cheetah is "the spotted one" - and sure enough, if we keep killing them, you'd be very lucky if you spotted one. They think less than seven individuals, because it has been shown that if a population is reduced to seven individuals and then expands quickly, the offspring still retain about 95% of their genetic variability. But cheetahs have almost zero genetic variability - there's hardly any difference between them.

They think about 10-12,000 years ago, because back then, there was a massive destruction of many different mammalian species, such as mammoths, sable tigers and cave bears. About 75% of all mammalian species died out in North and South America. So this was probably the "disaster" that knocked off most of the cheetahs. Perhaps this disaster was a severe climate change associated with the tailing-off of the last Ice Age.