Reproductive status of cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) in North American Zoos: The benefits of physiological surveys for strategic planning

D. E. Wildt, J. L. Brown, M. Bush, M. A. Barone, K. A. Cooper, J. Grisham, J. G. Howard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Under the mandate of a Species Survival Plan (SSP), reproductive status was assessed in 128 cheetahs maintained in 18 different institutions in North America. A mobile laboratory research team evaluated cheetahs using anesthesia, serial blood sampling, electroejaculation (males), and laparoscopy (females). Biomaterials were also collected for parallel studies of genetics, nutrition, and health. There was no mortality, and cheetahs were capable of reproducing naturally after these intense manipulatory examinations. No marked differences were observed in reproductive or endocrine characteristics between proven and unproven breeders. However, males consistently produced teratospermic ejaculates, and cheetah sperm were compromised in conspecific or heterologous in vitro fertilization systems. Structurally abnormal sperm were found to be filtered by the oocyte's zona pellucida. More than 80% of the females were anatomically sound, but morphological and endocrine evidence suggested that ∼50% or more of the population may have had inactive ovaries at the time of the examination. Males ranging in age from 15 to 182 months produced spermic ejaculates, but motile sperm numbers/ejaculate and circulating testosterone concentrations were highest in males 60 to 120 months old. Parovarian cysts were observed in 51.5% of female cheetahs, but comparisons between proven and unproven subpopulations revealed that this abnormality likely had no influence on fertility. Fresh luteal tissue was not observed in any nonpregnant or nonlactating female, strongly suggesting that the cheetah is an induced ovulator. Overall survey results were discussed in the context of the etiology of reproductive inefficiency, especially with respect to the potential importance of biological versus management factors. Four high priority research areas in cheetah reproductive biology were identified: 1) continuous monitoring of ejaculate quality in the extant population, while studying the impact of pleiomorphisms on fertility; 2) determining the potential relationship between libido and androgen production (excretion) in males; 3) confirming the extent of cyclic, or acyclic, ovarian activity in females; and 4) continued development of assisted reproductive techniques for enhancing man‐agement. In summary, a multidisciplinary, multi‐institutional survey coordinated through the SSP is both possible and useful for generating a physiological and health database beneficial to driving further research and management initiatives. © 1993 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-80
Number of pages36
JournalZoo Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1993
Externally publishedYes


  • assisted reproduction
  • follicle
  • hormone
  • ovary
  • reproductive performance
  • semen
  • sperm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology

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    Wildt, D. E., Brown, J. L., Bush, M., Barone, M. A., Cooper, K. A., Grisham, J., & Howard, J. G. (1993). Reproductive status of cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) in North American Zoos: The benefits of physiological surveys for strategic planning. Zoo Biology, 12(1), 45-80.