“Allomatural infant care/handling, or non-maternal infant care/handling is alloparenting performed by any group member other than the mother or genetic father and thus is distinguished from parental care. It is a widespread phenomenon among mammals and birds.”
Our cheetahs have been doing exceptionally well in terms of breeding. Currently, our Rietvlei female, and her daughter have cubs simultaneously. The two litters were born not too far apart from each other (October 2020), so they do not have a very big age difference. When we suspected that Rietvlei had cubs, we went to investigate. This is her third litter on the DGR. Her previous litters, first five and second three, which she successfully raised, since she was introduced in the DGR.
When our rangers headed out to look for her, they found her with 5 cubs. Her daughter, DGR female, is the first of her offspring to also have a litter in the reserve. Shortly after the confirmation of Rietvlei’s litter, we confirmed that her daughter, DGR female, also had a litter of 6 cubs. The male which most likely sired the cubs of the Rietvlei female would be the Amakhosi male and the Gondwana male the cubs of the DGR female.
A couple of weeks passed, and then an interesting discovery was made. Rietvlei female was seen with 4 cubs, and her daughter, DGR female, was seen with 7 cubs. Wow, that does sound strange, doesn’t it? It is not uncommon that mothers and daughters with cubs move their cubs around. It is a very interesting occurrence. The possibility exists that further transfers may occur.
The term used for this occurrence, is allo-mothering. There is not much research done on the topic specifically on cheetahs yet, but Samara Game Reserve recorded a similar occurrence. Also, a mother and daughter, each with their own litter of cubs born a month apart. Two of the one mothers’ cubs joined the other mother. They continued to swap their cubs for a while.
This occurrence has also been recorded in the Serengeti.
We are excited to learn more about this behaviour we see in cheetah.
The DGR forms part of the EWT Metapopulation program. The aim of the Metapopulation program is to prevent inbreeding and to ensure the long-term viability of cheetahs in small, fenced reserves together with the long-term genetic and demographic integrity of the metapopulation.