Early life experience and sex influence acoustic repertoire use in wild-born, but hand-reared, captive cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus)

  • June 3, 2022
  • by Bouchet, H., Lemasson, A., Collier, K., Marker L. L., Schmidt-Küntzel A., Johnston, B., Hausberger, M.


Early deprivation of adult influence is known to have long-lasting effects on social abilities, notably communication skills, as adults play a key role in guiding and regulating the behavior of youngsters, including acoustic repertoire use in species in which vocal production is not learned. Cheetahs grow up alongside their mother for 18 months, thus maternal influences on the development of social skills are likely to be crucial. Here, we investigated the impact of early maternal deprivation on vocal production and use in 12 wild-born cheetahs, rescued and subsequently hand-reared either at an early (less than 2 months) or a later stage of development. We could distinguish 16 sound types, produced mostly singly but sometimes in repeated or multitype sound sequences.

The repertoire of these cheetahs did not differ fundamentally from that described in other studies on adult cheetahs, but statistical analyses revealed a concurrent effect
of both early experience and sex on repertoire use. More specifically, early-reared males were characterized by a high proportion of Purr, Meow, and Stutter; early-reared
females Mew, Growl, Hoot, Sneeze, and Hiss; late-reared males Meow, Mew, Growl, and Howl; and late-reared females mostly Meow. Our study demonstrates therefore the
long-term effects of maternal deprivation on communication skills in a limited-vocal learner and its differential effect according to sex, in line with known social differences and potential differential maternal investment. More generally, it emphasizes the critical importance to consider the past history of the subjects (e.g., captive/wild-born, mother/hand-reared, early/late-mother-deprived, etc.) when studying social behavior, notably acoustic communication.

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