Calling Cheetahs

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Some sounds soothe. Some sounds annoy. And some sounds stimulate sexual behavior, like in cheetahs. And we have a new baby cheetah as a result of our conservation bioacoustics program.

Breeding cheetahs is a challenge, because the females do not show any obvious behaviors revealing their reproductive state. But when males sniff areas where female cheetahs have been, they sometimes utter a unique call: the stutterbark. Males will emit this call again and again and again while they pace their enclosure and check out the female cheetahs in the nearby enclosures. When the females hear the calls, they don’t respond at first. But when they hear some of the males call, it seems to trigger their hormone system and turn on some special behaviors.

Listen to a male’s stutterbark [audio:]

So, Matt Anderson, San Diego Zoo Conservation Research Behavioral Biology Division, used some software to create a brand-new stutterbark that he played to the cheetahs at the Zoo’s Wild Animal Park research area. After hearing the sound of this “new male,” one of the cheetahs, Kenya, became very, very excited. She started rolling to-and-fro in the grass on her back, lifted up her tail tip and wagged it, and seemed to be checking out the male cheetahs nearby. When she was placed with a male named Quando, the two of them proceeded to mate. This was good news and the first time that cheetah breeding had resulted from using a sound recording.

Afterwards, Kenya’s poop samples were regularly checked for specific hormones by Corinne Pisacane, Behavioral Biology, to see if she was pregnant. Cheetahs are pregnant for about three months, and it looked like the breeding took. With bated breath we monitored her reproductive state and hoped for a new cheetah cub or a litter of cubs, since cheetahs often have three to four babies at a time.

Kenya did not disappoint us. She produced a daughter, but because it was only a single baby, and her first cub, caretaking was a bit of a problem. So the baby was brought to the Park’s Animal Care Center and will be incorporated into our cheetah education program. For now, if you want to see the baby, she is at the Wild Animal Park under the watchful care and supervision of the staff to make sure that she grows and develops into a healthy cheetah.

Fred Bercovitch is head of Behavioral Biology at San Diego Zoo Conservation Research.

Read a blog from Matt Anderson about our researchers’ acoustic studies, Rainy Days in Sensory Ecology Lab.

Read a previous blog about Quando and his brother, Quint, Cheetahs: Home Sweet Home.

Read Fred’s previous blog, The Koala in the Hat.

More images of the cheetah cub can be seen in What’s New?