Cheetah: Against All Odds

2008, Nature  -  50 min Leave a Comment
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In the Serengeti cheetahs live edgy lives. Females with cubs must hunt for food and if left alone their offspring are prone to the cruelty of more dominant predators. Even scavengers can abuse this slim feline built for speed. Cheetahs are the most agile but also the most defenseless of the big cats. Two cheetah mothers, both with different fate, raise their cubs against all the odds. Does know-how count or are they both at the mercy of pure chance?

Five male cheetahs and one female... wherever she goes her entourage follows lured by her readiness to mate. She's in estrus but she's no pushover. There's tension among the coalition of five but the female and suitors stay together sometimes for several days before she's ready to mate. As the subordinate males watch and wait, the dominant male cheetah moves in.

The female acts like any other feline during this period and if the pairing is successful in three months she'll give birth to a litter of five or six. Females with cubs search out hiding places in their territory to keep their young safe from predators. At any sign of danger or discovery they'll immediately move their cubs. Thick vegetation provides sanctuary and cheetah cubs are well camouflaged, but even so they're not allowed to wander far. She has five cubs and she'll need good luck and substantial skills to raise all of her offspring.

Another female's home range is farther out into the open plains. Termite mounts are excellent vantage points from where both danger and prey can be spotted. She too has a big litter. Mortality in young cheetahs is high. Although females give birth to up to six cubs, nine out of ten fail to reach adulthood. Raising four cubs to over a month old is significant maternal achievement.

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