Demography of the Serengeti cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) population: the first 25 years


All correspondence to: Dr T. M. Caro, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, University of California, Davis, California 95616, U.S.A.


Data are presented on the demography and reproductive success of cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) living on the Serengeti Plains, Tanzania over a 25-year period. Average age at independence was 17.1 months, females gave birth to their first litter at approximately 2.4 years old, interbirth interval was 20.1 months, and average litter size at independence was 2.1 cubs. Females who survived to independence lived on average 6.2 years while minimum male average longevity was 2.8 years for those born in the study area and 5.3 years for immigrants, with a large proportion of males dispersing out of the Plains population. Females produced on average only 1.7 cubs to independence in their entire lifetime and their average reproductive rates were 0.36 cubs per year or 0.17 litters per year to independence. Variance in lifetime reproductive success in the cheetah is similar to that of other mammals.

No significant negative correlations were found between adult cheetah population size and numbers of cubs reaching independence, implying that the Plains population had not reached carrying capacity. Annual numbers of adult female cheetahs only were correlated with rainfall. Adult female cheetah numbers were not correlated with adult female lion numbers on the Plains, however, reproductive rates of cheetahs were negatively correlated with the presence of lions while cheetahs had cubs. Moreover, cheetah reproductive success was lower during the period of high lion abundance (1980-1994) than during the earlier period of relatively few lions (1969-1979). Litter size at independence dropped from 2.5 to 2.0, lifetime reproductive success declined from 2.1 to 1.6 cubs reared to independence, and the reproductive rate (cubs/year) decreased from 0.42 to 0.36 from the earlier to the later period.

Cheetah reproductive success showed little association with the presence of Thomson's gazelle at sightings except for a negative correlation between large numbers of gazelle (200±500) and reproductive success possibly because hunting success decreases with increasing prey herd size, or because cheetahs always lose in direct competition with other predators which are attracted to large congregations of prey. In addition, cheetah reproductive success was negatively correlated with the presence of Grant's gazelles (11 or more) perhaps because Grant's gazelles were more likely to occur consistently in dry areas.