Reproductive activity in captive female cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) assessed by faecal steroids

in Reproduction

Faecal oestradiol and progestogen metabolite excretion was monitored in adult, female cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) (n = 26) for 1–24 months. Increased faecal oestradiol excretion was associated with mating or equine chorionic gonadotrophin (eCG) administration for artificial insemination, whereas increased progestogen metabolites were observed during natural and human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG)-induced pregnant and nonpregnant luteal phases. On the basis of oestradiol excretory patterns, duration of the oestrous cycle (mean ± sem) was 13.6 ± 1.2 days with high oestradiol concentrations lasting for 4.1 ± 0.8 days. In non-gonadotrophin-treated cheetahs, 75% showed evidence of oestrous cyclicity; however, none evaluated for 1 year or longer were continuously cyclic. Rather, cyclicity was interrupted by periods of anoestrus, often exceeding several months in duration. These inactive ovarian periods were unrelated to season and were not synchronous among females. Mean duration of gestation (breeding to parturition) was 94.2 ± 0.5 days, whereas duration of faecal progestogen metabolite excretion during the nonpregnant luteal phase was 51.2 ± 3.5 days. On the basis of progestogen metabolite evaluations, spontaneous ovulation (non-mating induced) occurred only once in two females (2 of 184 oestrous cycles; 1.1%). Peak eCG-stimulated, preovulatory oestradiol concentrations were similar to those associated with natural oestrus, whereas progestogen metabolite profiles after hCG resembled those during pregnant and nonpregnant luteal phases after natural mating. In summary, results confirm that the cheetah is polyoestrus and ovulation is almost always induced. However, new evidence suggests that many females inexplicably experience periods of anoestrus unrelated to season, while 25% of the cheetahs examined expressed no ovarian activity during the study period.

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