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Cheetahs are difficult breeders, but Kuno death was avoidable

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Cheetahs are difficult breeders, but Kuno death was avoidable

Context- A South African female cheetah died of injuries apparently inflicted by two males looking to mate with her in Kuno, Madhya Pradesh, last week. It is common for male cheetahs to show violent behaviour towards females, and putting the sexes together in confinement — as is the practice in Kuno .

(Credits- Indian Express)

The cats that lived

  • A landmark paper published in Science in 1983 submitted that all cheetahs are virtually twins or clones with extremely low genetic variation, which makes their future uncertain. Four decades on, not only are cheetahs around, they have been tasked with repopulating a lost habitat.
  • The cheetah’s longevity was probably never in doubt, given that the species has survived 12,000 years since the Late Pleistocene period when many large mammal species went extinct and the population of cheetahs fell drastically, leading to inbreeding and genetic inelasticity.
  • Today, habitat loss and conflict with livestock owners pose bigger threats to the cheetah’s future. Yet, its unique genetic profile has made breeding a perpetual struggle for one of the planet’s greatest survivors.

Mating in the wild

  • In the social structure of other cats such as tigers or leopards, a large male territory encompasses multiple female territories to ensure female fidelity. Among cheetahs, females roam multiple male territories, and fidelity is not demanded.
  • Adult female cheetahs are solitary but not territorial. They travel across large overlapping home ranges, ignoring one another. While roaming different male territories, a female mates with multiple males — preferably, unrelated males — within an oestrus cycle, leading to multiple paternities in the same litter.

Behaviour in captivity

  • Genetic variation her top priority, the female is turned off by loss of mating choice in captivity.
  • In 2018, researchers tested female interest in urine samples from male cheetahs of varying genetic relatedness. Offered scents from 17 males, 12 females showed more interest in the most distantly related males.

The lesson for Kuno

  • The purpose of India’s Cheetah Project is to establish the African imports in the wild. But it also attempted captive breeding by simply putting the sexes together in an enclosure and leaving the outcome to chance.
  • Wild animals are unpredictable and no amount of caution guarantees total safety. Yet, given the knowledge-based innovations that have cut the risks in captive cheetah breeding across the world, there is little justification for bringing the animals together in confined conditions in the hope that they might mate.

Concussion- Implementation of learnings will ensure long term success of cheetah translocation project. Moreover, cheetahs can also be shifted to other areas if need arises.

Syllabus- GS-3; Environment

Source- Indian Express

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