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Captive Population

In 2004, the Captive Breeding Committee of the NCCF recorded 44 facilities to be holding a minimum of 524 Cheetah in controlled captive conditions. Eight of these facilities were classified as zoological parks with the balance being private reserves, safari parks, rehabilitation centres or breeding operations (Marnewick et al. 2007). Only 11 of these facilities were found to be actively breeding with Cheetahs. The reproductive performance of Cheetah captive conditions is poor (Wildt et al. 1993) and these facilities are not a reliable source of animals for reintroduction into the wild (Bisset and Barnard 2011). The high prevalence of disease in captive populations is now thought to be caused by chronic stress suffered by Cheetah in captive conditions and not by genetic factors (Munson et al. 2005). The myriad of diseases suffered by captive Cheetahs are rare in wild Cheetah (Terio et al. 2004) and the supposed lack of genetic diversity in Cheetah has been refuted by recent phylogeographic studies (Charruau et al. 2011). Cheetah held in captivity are not subject to natural evolutionary forces and captive cheetah are thought to be going through the initial stages of domestication. Traits acquired through artificial selection in a captive environment are undesirable in a wild environment.

This brings into question the necessity for such a large captive population, especially when captive centres are responsible for removing Cheetah from the wild population (Lindsey and Marnewick 2011). The captive population has reached its present size and managed to sustain itself by acquiring Cheetah from the wild population. Records indicate that more than 30% of wild Cheetahs moved off of Metapopulation reserves in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal cluster since 2001 have been absorbed into the captive population. The situation in other clusters is probably similar although complete records of Cheetah movements have proved difficult to obtain. Free roaming Cheetahs are also captured and moved into captivity. The number of free roaming cheetah lost to captivity are difficult to quantify as these movements are performed illegally. The extent of the captive breeding industry is difficult to determine due to insufficient records and privacy policies (Marnewick et al. 2007). The lack of sufficient record keeping and regulation makes the captive breeding industry a channel for trading in wild Cheetahs. Captive facilities need to be well regulated and audited to ensure that they are operating legally and ethically.