Scandal on the Serengeti
Cheetahs: Playing the field
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Wednesday, 30, May 2007 12:01
New light has been shed on the extent of female cheetahs' unfaithfulness to their male partners.
A British study conducted in the Serengeti, Tanzania, found that 43 per cent of cheetah litters were made up of cubs with different fathers.
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which performed the research, says the statistic is worrying as female cheetahs' infidelity could be putting their lives at risk.
"Mating with more than one male poses a serious threat to females, increasing the risk of exposure to parasites and diseases. Females also have to travel over large distances to find new males, making them more vulnerable to predation, so infidelity is a heavy burden," said ZSL lead scientist Dada Gottelli.
"Before we started the DNA analysis, we thought it was possible that female cheetahs were choosing to be cheaters, but we were amazed by the level of infidelity that we uncovered."
But Dr Gottelli added that one benefit for females was that their offspring would be "more genetically diverse, which is important in an unpredictable environment such as the Serengeti".
Cheetahs, the world's fastest land predator, are officially classed as a threatened species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
ZSL, which has been monitoring the big cat for the last 15 years through the Serengeti Cheetah Project, estimates only 10,000 of the animals are left in the wild.
"This research shows that more of the male cheetah population are contributing to the next generation than we had expected," explained Dr Sarah Durant, ZSL author and Serengeti Cheetah Project lead.
"This is good news for conservation as the genetic diversity of future generations of cheetah will be preserved by their duplicitous behaviour."