breeding animals in captivity -- 12/15/21

Today's selection -- from Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared M. Diamond. It is very difficult to breed cheetahs in captivity.

"We humans don't like to have sex under the watchful eyes of others; some potentially valuable animal species don't like to either. That's what derailed attempts to domesticate cheetahs, the swiftest of all land animals, despite our strong motivation to do so for thousands of years. ...

"[T]ame cheetahs were prized by ancient Egyptians and Assyrians and modern Indians as hunting animals infinitely superior to dogs. One Mogul emperor of India kept a stable of a thousand cheetahs. But despite those large investments that many wealthy princes made, all of their cheetahs were tamed ones caught in the wild. The princes' efforts to breed cheetahs in captivity failed, and not until 1960 did even biologists in modern zoos achieve their first successful cheetah birth. In the wild, several cheetah brothers chase a female for several days, and that rough courtship over large distances seems to be required to get the female to ovulate or to become sexually receptive. Cheetahs usually refuse to carry out that elaborate courtship ritual inside a cage.

Vicuña near Chimborazo in Ecuador

"A similar problem has frustrated schemes to breed the vicuña, an Andean wild camel whose wool is prized as the finest and lightest of any animal's. The ancient Incas obtained vicuña wool by driving wild vicuñas into corrals, shearing them, and then releasing them alive. Modern mer­chants wanting this luxury wool have had to resort either to this same method or simply to killing wild vicuñas. Despite strong incentives of money and prestige, all attempts to breed vicuñas for wool production in captivity have failed, for reasons that include vicuñas' long and elaborate courtship ritual before mating, a ritual inhibited in captivity; male vicuñas' fierce intolerance of each other; and their requirement for both a year­ round feeding territory and a separate year-round sleeping territory."



Jared M. Diamond


Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies


W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.


Copyright 2005, 2003, 1997 by Jared Diamond


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