May 29, 2007
LONDON (Reuters) - For female cheetahs in the Serengeti, the call of the wild is just too hard to resist as new research shows nearly half of their litters are made up of cubs with different fathers.
And while the serial infidelities of the females does ensure a broader genetic mix to help the survival of the endangered species, it comes at a cost, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said on Wednesday.
"Mating with more than one male poses a serious threat to females, increasing the risk of exposure to parasites and diseases," said Dada Gottelli, ZSL's lead scientist for the research.
"Females also have to travel over large distances to find new males, making them more vulnerable to predation, so infidelity is a heavy burden."
Cheetahs are a threatened species and are declining in number in the areas they inhabit.
The effective breeding population is estimated to be below 10,000 individuals and the species faces threats from human attacks and habitat loss.
"This research shows that more of the male cheetah population are contributing to the next generation than we had expected," said Sarah Durant, leader of the Serengeti Cheetah Project since 1991.
"This is good news for conservation as the genetic diversity of future generations of cheetah will be preserved by their duplicitous behavior."