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Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) Fact Sheet: Reproduction & Development

Courtship & Reproduction

Reproductive behavior

  • Females
    • Roll and self-groom when a male is encountered
    • May run away and approach male several times
    • May growl or slap at males
      • Often occurs when a male sniffs a female or nearby vegetation
  • Males
    • Very aggressive to female in estrus
      • May knock her down
        • Female often "yips" at the male, lays dorsally (on the back) in a defensive threat position, and strikes at him with her paws
      • Bite at partner's hindquarters
      • Slap at her
    • Coalitions of males often approach solitary females
      • Account for 68.9% of single females encountered
      • Infrequent aggression between males within a coalition
        • May hiss and growl at one another

Year-round reproduction

  • Sexually active throughout the year

Gestation & Birth

Gestation

  • 90-98 days

Birth

  • Size at birth
    • Weight, in the wild
      • 150-350 g (0.33-0.77 lbs)
        • Average daily growth 44.6 g/day (0.1 lb/day)
    • Weight, in managed care
      • 380-700 g (0.84-1.54 lbs)
        • Average daily growth 50+/-1.3 g/day (0.11 lb/day)
    • Male cubs heavier than females
    • Body length
      • c. 30 cm (11.8 in)
  • Infant appearance
    • Eyes closed
    • Pelage dirty white-gray above, black below
      • Long ruff of gray hair covers back, nape and crown
  • Development
    • Eyes open at 4-11 days
    • Deciduous teeth approximately 3 weeks
    • Ambulatory at 3 weeks
      • Do not leave den until c. 6 weeks
    • Coat tawny and spotted at c. 3 months
    • Traces of ruff persist through 15 months

Litter size

  • 3-4, most often

Reproductive rate

  • Interbirth interval (time between births)
    • Average intervals 15-19 months
    • If litter is lost, female goes into estrus and can produce a second litter
      • Viable litters conceived within month after previous litter lost, study in Serengeti National Park

 

Life Stages

Infants/Juveniles

  • Care
    • Milk sole source of nourishment for c. 2 months
    • Begin to consume meat c. 9 weeks of age
      • Mother tears open carcass, waits for young to eat
      • The time she waits decreases weekly until by week 15 she eats at same time as cubs
    • Cubs cease suckling c. 16 weeks of age
  • Development
    • Growth
      • Rapid; half the size of an adult by 6 months of age
    • Weaning
      • Time frame varies
      • Mother lactates for 14-24 weeks
    • Last deciduous teeth (adult canines) erupt by 8 months
      • Cubs begin play-stalking prey
      • Mother begins to bring live animals to the cubs
      • Prior to 8 months, cubs may "strangle" dead prey
    • Hunting, with some success, by 12-14 months
    • Cubs leave mother and form sibling groups at about 18 months of age
      • The cubs remain together for approximately 6 months, with females leaving the group first

Adults

  • Males
    • Sexually mature c. 2.5-3 years of age
      • Mature at older ages than females
      • Obtain adult size prior to becoming sexually mature
        • At 15 months, males are adult size and have testes volume equivalent to a full adult
          • Lack adult levels of testosterone
    • Oldest age of reproduction
      • 14 years
    • Reproductive senescence
      • Older individuals with higher proportion of abnormal sperm in semen
        • 60%-90%
      • Sperm motility is less vigorous
      • Sperm with shorter longevity than in domestic or other exotic cats
      • 12 male cheetahs at SD Wild Animal Park diagnosed with poor quality sperm
        • Despite this, in 10 years, 10 of the 12 males fathered offspring
  • Female
    • Sexually mature c. 21-22 months
      • Ovulation
        • Primarily induced by mating, but spontaneous ovulation may sometimes occur
        • Other felids with spontaneous ovulation
          • Domestic cat and clouded leopard
    • Oldest age of reproduction
      • 14 years.

Longevity

In the wild

  • 12-14 years
    • Females typically c. 7 years
    • Males in coalitions c. 8 years.

In managed care

  • Longest lived individual
    • 21 years of age
  • Average 8-12 years

Cub Development

a cheetah cub licking mom

Cub licking mom. Cubs remain with their mother for the first 18 months of life. After this time, siblings form separate groups whose members remain together for another 6 months. Females are often the first to leave these sibling groups.


Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Beekman et al (1999)
Bircher & Noble (1997)
Caro (1994)
Durant et al (2004)
Kingdon (1977)
Laurenson et al (1995)
Lindburg et al (1993)
Meltzer (1987)
Merola (1994)
O’Brien et al (1985)
O'Brien & Johnson (2005)
Wielebnowski (1996)
Wildt & Roth (1997)

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