Captive breeding of the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) in North American zoos

  • January 1, 1989
  • by Marker L. L., S.J. O'Brien


The African cheetah has been bred in North American zoological facilities since 1956. The captive population has since grown to around 200 animals because of a combined increase in importation plus captive births. From 1982 to 1986, the captive birth rate declined by 5O%, primarily because of a low frequency of breeding individuals in the population. The 1986 population had an effective breeding size of 28.1 in a total population of over 193 cheetahs. The incidence of infant mortality has been high (36.7%) relative to other zoo-bred species, perhaps as a consequence of the previously observed genetic impoverishment of the species. The combination of low fecundity, high infant mortality, and population dynamics indicates that the North American captive cheetah population is neither a self-sustaining nor a theoretically “viable population” as defined by Soule et al. [ZOO BIOLOGY 5:101-114, 19861. Possible recommendations for improving captive cheetah propagation are discussed.

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