The Effect of Exercise on Behavioral and Physiologic Measures of Stress in Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) in Human Care
In human care, cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) experience health and reproductive challenges that have been attributed in part to high stress levels.1 Studies have suggested that running and hunting behaviors may reduce stress, and zoological facilities are beginning to provide an outlet for these behaviors through exercise programs, in which cheetahs chase a moving lure on a designated course.2 The purpose of this study was to analyze the impact of this lure course exercise on physiologic and behavioral measures of stress in cheetahs from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (CZA), the Wilds, and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (CMZ). Cheetahs were divided into treatment (exercised on a lure course; n=4) and control (not exercised; n=10) groups. Fecal samples were collected every other day from June through August. Fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGM) were measured by enzyme immunoassay. Thirty 30-min focal observations—balanced between morning, midday, and afternoon time periods—were conducted for each cheetah when the animal was not participating in formal exercise. Behavioral observations indicated that cheetahs involved in exercise programs displayed significantly more mobile behaviors (p=0.02) and non-stereotypic locomotion (p=0.05) than did non-exercised animals. In exercised cheetahs, fecal glucocorticoid metabolites decreased between the first and second half of the study. These data, in conjunction with associated studies, lend insight into the impacts of exercise on the welfare of cheetahs in human care.
The authors thank Juston Wickham, Toni Hoepf, Suzi Rapp, Wouter Stellard, and the Animal Program staff at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for their invaluable efforts to make this project possible, and The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo for financial support.
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2. Williams BG, Waran NK, Carruthers J, Young RJ. The effect of a moving bait on the behaviour of captive cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus). Anim Welfare. 1996;5:271–281.