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environment general science genetics health and medicine space technology March 08, 2003 
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Cheetah Dating Service (video)
October 04, 2001

Also on ScienCentral News

Panda Pregnancy Puzzle (video) - Home pregnancy tests have made it easy to find out when a woman is expecting. But things are a lot more complicated if you’re a giant panda. (8/23/01)

Animal Archive (video) - The San Diego Zoo is trying to save endangered animals by preserving their DNA and cracking their genetic code. (5/22/01)

Elsewhere on the web

Cheetah Breeding and Infant Development at the San Diego Zoo

eZoo videos (there’s a link to see a cheetah cub being fed)

The zoo’s endangered species report (video) on cheetahs

In recent years, animal researchers have sought ways to halt the decline of the world’s cheetah population.

As this ScienCentral News video reports, a novel "matchmaking" service is coming to the rescue of these endangered cats.

Why wouldn’t they mate?

In the early 1980s, researchers thought that captive cheetahs were failing to reproduce because of infertility caused by years of inbreeding among small isolated populations. But the folks at the San Diego Zoo’s Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species (CRES) decided to explore the possibility that rather than blaming the cheetahs, perhaps the problem was that zoos were setting the cats up on a series of unsuccessful blind dates. After years of study, the folks at the zoo found that there were several factors leading them to think they had frigid felines on their hands.

Estrus - Researchers at the time had no knowledge of when and how long female cheetahs were in heat, and the cheetahs seemed to show no visible signs. By pairing males and females and taking note of when the males would get excited after smelling the female, the zoo’s behavior team started to get a better idea.

Not enough choices - The team determined that cheetahs have to be attracted to each other to mate. The problem is that captive cheetahs don’t always have a large number of potential mates, and zoos with few male cheetahs were at a particular disadvantage. But even zoos with plenty of males, like the San Diego Zoo, had to learn the signals that cheetahs give (like the stutter bark) when a love connection has been made.

Bizarre hormonal cycles and bad sperm - Some of the female cheetahs were not having regular menstrual cycles, making it hard for zoo staff to time their "dates." At the same time, it turned out that about 70 percent of male cheetah sperm is abnormal, and that this high percentage is a norm for the species.

Once the CRES team had identified these problems, success with their cheetah dating service became more and more common. Fifteen cheetah cubs have been born at the zoo in just the last 18 months. The zoo says it’s particularly noteworthy that the parentage includes six first-time breeders and that 13 of the 15 cubs survive to the present time.

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