• Captivity;
  • cheetah;
  • conservation;
  • free-ranging;
  • re-introduction program;
  • reproductive performance;
  • survival


Re-introduction programs rely on reproductively sound individuals and high offspring survival once captively bred species are released into their natural habitat. Some species involved in captive breeding programs reproduce poorly: one prominent example is the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). Here we use the cheetah as a case study to test predictions from all current hypotheses explaining this phenomenon by monitoring postemergence cub survival and assessing the reproductive status of free-ranging and captive female cheetahs in Namibia with ultrasonography. We show that reproductive activity and health of cheetah females is determined by reproductive history and age rather than innate rhythms, captive stress, or lack of genetic diversity, and that postemergence cub survival under natural conditions in a predator-free habitat is high. Our results suggest that management practices of captive breeding and re-introduction programs should encourage early reproduction in females to induce long-lasting and healthy reproductive performance. With this practice, re-introduction projects might increase their chances of success.