I heart cheetahs

Apparently female cheetahs “sleep around.”

For female cheetahs in the Serengeti, the call of the wild is just too hard to resist as new research shows nearly half of their litters are made up of cubs with different fathers.
And while the serial infidelities of the females does ensure a broader genetic mix to help the survival of the endangered species, it comes at a cost, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said on Wednesday.
“Mating with more than one male poses a serious threat to females, increasing the risk of exposure to parasites and diseases,” said Dada Gottelli, ZSL’s lead scientist for the research.
“Females also have to travel over large distances to find new males, making them more vulnerable to predation, so infidelity is a heavy burden.”

Is it just me, or do those arguments sound like abstinence-ed for cheetahs? (I’m sick. Give me a break.)

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  • EG

    Well, there’s a weird anthopomorphism happening in the article, with the use of words such as “infidelities” and “duplicitous behavior”–unless the cheetahs in question have promised each other to be sexually exclusive, there ain’t no cheating happening here. Because they are, well, cheetahs, and not human beings living by contemporary Western mores.
    I’m intrigued by who or what is preying upon these travelling female cheetahs, given that cheetahs are themselves predators, and that they are the fastest land creatures on earth. I’m assuming that the predators who put them in danger would have to be human beings, yes?
    I wonder if Dr. Gottelli ever cites risks of parasites when discussing “infidelities” among male animals?
    Anyway, an interesting example of how cultural bias pervades seemingly unrelated scientific research.

  • http://thecurvature.blogspot.com Anonymous

    Comprehensive sex ed for cheetahs!

  • UltraMagnus

    I second Cara. We need conservatives to go out into the wild and teach those cheetahs that they need to make the males work for it and to keep it to one male, or else they’ll use up all their cheetatocin and they won’t be able to love ever again. They should also be shamed for having so many different baby daddies.
    Serisously, is it just me or could mating with even ONE male cheetah still put these females at risk? If the first male she mates with has the parasites then she could catch it just as easily as if she’s had sex with several (like you can catch and STI with your first partner). And even to find one mate, she still might have to travel a great distance if she wants to avoid undesirables or inbreeding.
    This is nothing but cheetah slut shaming! And kudos Jessica for the graphic:) Thundercats, hoooooa!

  • Pickleberry

    I saw this earlier and I was really hoping that feministing would pick up on it…WTF CNN??!!?????? and scientists.
    Not that I really expect any better from them by now.

  • http://lawfairy.blogspot.com The Law Fairy

    I had to read the article myself, because I was convinced you were playing a little joke on us, Jessica. After reading it, I’m just dumbfounded.
    Like, what is the POINT of those comments? I mean… seriously, this makes me think of what my grandma kept saying OVER and OVER (bless her aged and increasingly senile heart) after she saw March of the Penguins: “If I come back, I don’t wanna come back as one of them. They have such a HARD LIFE.”
    Seriously, it cracked me up. They’re PENGUINS. They’re not exactly sitting around envying the neighboring penguin’s gas-heated mansion the next snow drift over. They’re just EXISTING, however they’ve evolved to exist.
    Same thing here. Talking about “costs” to the cheetahs of “infidelity”??? Next thing you know we’ll be lecturing cheetahs on the social costs of divorce. I mean. They’re CHEETAHS. They adopt whatever behavior evolution has demonstrated to be most beneficial for the survival of their species. Once they develop conscious thought and want to work out social mores to guide that evolution, I’m all for it. But something tells me we’re not going to find the next Einstein or Shakespeare in the cat family. Hey, I’m speciesist like that.
    I can’t believe “scientists” would actually make remarks like this. I mean… predation??? Just because they’re female??? If I’m walking through the wild and have the option of a female cheetah companion or no companion, I will TAKE the female cheetah companion. Because, you know, female cheetahs have claws and fangs and could, you know, KILL OTHER ANIMALS AND HUMANS and shit. I mean. I’m sorry, I’m just speechless. The absurdity is too much for me.
    I guess my octogenarian retired-English-teacher grandma has the mind of a preeminent British scientist. How do you like THEM genes??

  • Nancy in NYC

    No, it’s totally abstinence-ed for cheetahs. I’d bet good money that this same sociobiologist would be happy to wank on for page after page about how the male of the species mates with as many females as possible to ensure the continuance of his line and the survival of the species. But let a female of the species do the same and suddenly we’re wringing our hands and wondering how to get her take a monogomy pledge. Cut me a fuckin’ break, indeed.

  • legallyblondeez

    Does anyone know whether cheetahs take exclusive mates, for a season or for life? I mean, a lot of animals have mates for the breeding season if not forever. That would make this less ludicrous. But since I’ve never heard that about cheetahs (not that I’m an expert), I’m thinking there is no fidelity among cheetahs and, therefore, no reason not to diversify one’s biological investments, so to speak. And of course that works whether one is a male or female in a non-monogamous species. Sexism in cheetahs! Hrmph!

  • moriath

    I think it also should be pointed out that, implicitly, if female cheetahs are “sleeping around,” the male cheetahs must be doing the same thing!

  • http://www.cruellablog.blogspot.com Cruella

    I prefer cougars myself. In the sense of older women who have a string of toy-boys waiting on them hand and foot.
    Love your book by the way Jessica, short review up on my site.

  • roro80

    Hey guys, maybe I’m missing something here, but this just looks like a biology article to me. It’s very common to talk about the “cost” of certain natural breeding habits of a species in this way. For me, the amazing thing about this was that usually it is the male of a species (at least mammals) that has multiple partners, not the female. Cheetahs are cool because they demonstrate a lot of “tribe” characteristics of a female-centric culture, in this case, that the female gets to pick her partners, which generally means they get more than one. (Compare with other large cats, where this is the opposite, for example.) I guess my point is that I’m not really seeing the problem with the scientists’ language, I’m just seeing “Cheetahs are cool ’cause the ladies rule”. Or something.

  • http://lawfairy.blogspot.com The Law Fairy

    roro, I think the issue is how the scientists are discussing these “costs.” When it’s slutty MALE animals we’re talking about (that’s right, I called them slutty), do scientists use identical language? Do they identify the same sorts of costs?
    My gut says no, but I’m open to evidence to the contrary.

  • Alex

    Ok, just to be clear, the ‘costs’ that the biologists are talking about are evolutionary costs: cost in number of genes passed on to the next generation. When Dr. Gottelli says that promiscuity carries a ‘heavy burden’ for the female cheetahs, he isn’t making a moral judgement, he’s reporting his observation that doing so is likely to make the cheetahs sick or dead. It presumeably carries a lower cost for the males, as, to judge from this incredibly crappy article, they don’t have to travel to find a mate and they don’t put as much effort into raising the brood (or whatever the hell the correct term for a group of infant cheetahs is). Dr. Gottelli is asking the interesting question of why the female cheetahs do this if it’s easier to settle down with one male and have a bunch of babies with him.

  • lilianna28

    I agree Law Fairy, the argument isn’t with the Cheetah Chick lifestyle, it’s with the verbiage. Words have power… the current administration has used terminology to shape opinion very powerfully and very well.
    “serial infidelities”
    ” vulnerable to predation”
    I love how the fact that this “serial infidelity” ensures the SURVIVAL OF THE SPECIES is glossed over in a “but…” kind of statement.

  • Alex

    Oh, and biologists typically use economic language to describe adaptations and behaviors of animals (cost vs. benefit), as the genes involved really do beahve as if they are making economic calculations. To pick a passage at random from Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins:

    For a very small animal an absolutely large eye would probably be too costly to make…

  • http://lawfairy.blogspot.com The Law Fairy

    Alex, again, it’s not that I have a problem per se with costs being identified… but to the extent these costs are infused, as I suspect they are, with a sexist perspective, it’s beyond frustrating. It just goes to show how even science is not immune from sexist bias. Which is fine if we acknowledge it, but fat chance that’ll ever happen.

  • legallyblondeez

    Alex, I think you’re missing the larger context.
    Words like “infidelity” trigger, at least in my mind, comparisons to human relationships. Clearly it’s okay to think of things like diversity of sexual partners in terms of a cost-benefits analysis for the individual animal. But when you cast it in the light of language we often use to vilify human women for normal sexual behavior, it just seems absurd.
    Maybe you already realize this since you said the article is “incredibly crappy,” but are being more charitable in the way you think about the author’s intentions. I’m just laughing at the jokey comments at this point–very good analogies, folks.

  • Alex

    I’m sorry, LF, but I’m finding it hard to see this as sexist (except, perhaps, the stupid ‘call of the wild’ shot in the first paragraph, which is the fault of CNN and not the biologists). I’ve read essays about chimpanzees which used the term ‘serial infidelity’ to describe the behavior of both male and female animals; it’s a fairly standard term for those sorts of goings on. I wish I had a better write-up of this study, but it appears to me that Dr. Gottelli has observed that, on the face of it, it makes more evolutionary sense for the cheetahs to practice monogamy; not because of any cultural notions of the practice, but because polyandrous cheetahs expose themselves to various seemingly unnecessary risks.

  • Genny

    Um, maybe I’m simple, but if all the females have multiple partners, doesn’t that necessarily mean that the males have multiple partners too? Unless the male to female ratios for cheetahs are way beyond 50/50, I’d say the whole “multiple partner” “issue” is probably shared by both genders. Which is why the phrasing of this article is odd, to me.

  • Alex

    I think the problem may be more with CNN than with the research. Dr. Gottelli’s priority is (I guess) figuring out what, in evolutionary terms, is motivating cheetah polyandry. Reuter’s priority is to get people to read a story containing Hot Feline Action. In the context of the article, the quote about ‘infidelity’ is quite questionable, I agree, but, as I’ve mentioned, ‘infidelity’ is used in biological literature to describe the behavior of male animals as well. In a Richard Dawkins book or in Gottelli’s report on the situation, the word would probably be fine. In the context of a magazine stub clearly written by a hack, I can see where the objection is coming from.

  • Alex

    Um, maybe I’m simple, but if all the females have multiple partners, doesn’t that necessarily mean that the males have multiple partners too?

    Nope. Say, for example, three males all mate with one female and nobody else. The female has three partners, and the males all have one each. What this does mean, however, is that perhaps not all females get the opportunity to mate.

  • legallyblondeez

    Thanks for the tips on the in-lingo for biologists. It’s still interesting to note the inherent bias in the fact that it’s called “infidelity” even when it’s normal for a particular species, but at this point I’m much more willing to give the scientist a break and just blame the ridiculous way the article exaggerated and altered the meanings of the (less loaded?) scientific terminology.

  • http://www.realadultsex.com figleaf

    I’m with Nancy in NYC and Ginny on this. Barring complete monogamy on both sides (including exclusive pair-shared territory) wouldn’t male cheetahs be as much at risk of parasites and predation as females?
    It reminds me of that AMA report that fretted only about young women who drink and have sex during spring break bashes in places like Cancun.

  • Fenriswolf

    Ha! This was in the paper today and I couldn’t believe it. What is wrong with us?
    Sorry, people claiming this is a “biology article”. If you think that wording is not unusual you have not read a biology article.
    I love zoology and people just don’t write this kind of weird crap. Why do we care?! Bah

  • NBarnes

    Remember, cheetah daddies, when you let someone mount you, you’re letting everyone they ever mounted mount you, too.

  • Moxie Hart

    I can’t believe that no one’s commented on that awesome pic of Cheetarah.

  • raginfem

    Following Gottelli’s logic – genetic variation isn’t worth sleeping with multiple males because sleeping with one male is less risky health-wise – then isn’t the reproduction of the species in general not worth it because sleeping with even one male can give a female a disease? I mean, clearly, to protect the females we MUST preach abstinence-only even if it means the end of the species.
    What a load of crap.

  • ShifterCat

    Here’s the thing: cheetahs are having a major problem with inbreeding right now. They were almost wiped out, so now their gene pool is so small that there’s very little to distinguish them from one another genetically. I recall seeing a nature program about it, in which scientists were artificially inseminating cheetah females with semen from males living far away specifically to try to combat this. Sounds like these female cheetahs are just trying to save preservationists the work.

  • Moxie Hart

    That makes me really sad, ShifterCat. Thinking about endangered specias always makes me really depressed.
    We need Captain Planet!

  • Voila

    ShifterCat, that’s an extremely logical explanation. I didn’t read the article, so I don’t know if the Dr. touched on it at all, but did he examine external factors for breeding habits? Whether or not Cheetahs have always had multiple partners, I always got the impression that they were one of the more fragile big cats. I can see how the benefits of an increased gene pool may outweigh the benefits of individual health and safety. I mean, we’re talking about an animal that has sex to procreate, not for pleasure, so discussing sex in terms of human behavior is rather silly. It seems that discussing the infidelity of dolphins would be more appropriate, but I don’t know how faithful dolphins are. My sister used to had a story about crayfish on her myspace page. It discusses how male crayfish pseudocopulate to reduce violence and establish hierarchy. I also read an article a while ago about the lesbian behavior either chimpanzees or orangutans displayed. Animal sex is interesting, and it emphasizes interesting things about human assumptions.

  • ShifterCat

    Well, I don’t know if female mammals are able to sense whether or not the males in her area are too closely related to her. Perhaps the cheetahs are being told on some level that their gene pool is dangerously tiny and are instinctively trying to counter this; perhaps this is a mating strategy they’ve always had. I’m sure more could be discovered about it if naturalists could avoid having human prejudices colour their research.
    And, of course, if the cheetahs’ habitat remains usable, and if no disease comes along that they’re susceptible to. :/

  • werechick

    …and no one mentions the side benefits, like that, in more “slutty” species, sperm count goes up? Simple competition. Aren’t these “free market” people?

  • Voila

    If they go into heat like a domestic cat, every male in a specific area will know the female is “drunk” on hormones and come running. Does the article discuss the economic factors at all? Like how the males screw her then leave, don’t even bring her a nice carcass for dinner. They offer no child support either, so until the kittens wander off on their own, she’s gotta work even harder to feed them and bathe them and spend time teaching them and work for their meals…. When’s a cheetah to sleep? I’d personally like to see more studies done on deadbeat dads of the animal kingdom.

  • http://lawfairy.blogspot.com The Law Fairy

    Maybe the female cheetahs just got addicted to cheetah semen. Maybe it’s EVEN MORE addictive than human semen.

  • Seriously

    This is why I always cringe when I read reporting on scientific studies in MSM.
    It would be nice if more journalists who reported on scientific findings actually had a background in science.
    Some of the wording in that article is normal, Fenris wolf. But I think the journalist took the word “infidelity” and ran with it. It didn’t mean what they probably thought it meant.
    You see the term “infidelity” is used often in animal behavior studies. It’s sort of short-hand for “when there is genetic evidence that a member a pair of a once believed monogamous species mates outside of the pair”
    That’s it, no morality involved, usually doing such bet-hedging is a smart strategy for a female. It’s looked at as a cool thing, at least in my circle.
    The disease aspect however is particular to cheetahs. (and other threatened/endangered species)
    They are well known for their current
    low genetic diversity and as a result their populations are believed to be highly susceptible to fatal disease epidemics. Not something you want with an endangered species.

  • Seriously

    Oh and Shiftercat, Research suggests that mammals can sense who is related to them and who isn’t by scent. Even slight differences in relatedness, it is important for outbreeding.

  • http://bowleserised.blogspot.com Bowleserised

    Well, if it does “”cost”” them so much, the rewards (your chosen sperm donors are the best male cheetahs you can find) must outweigh the risk. Isn’t that the logic.
    I think I knew about this already from reading Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice for all Creation (totally brilliant book which demonstrates, among other things, that most females are “unfaithful” and for good reason)

  • Fenriswolf

    “Some of the wording in that article is normal, Fenris wolf. But I think the journalist took the word “infidelity” and ran with it. It didn’t mean what they probably thought it meant.”
    Oh, yeah, it’s obviously an actual study that’s being chopped up and regurgitated to fill in blank pages.
    But I’m pretty astounded it’s come to people’s attention in the US and NZ simultaneously. I mean, it’s obviously a nothing article, so I’m pretty surprised
    (Plus it seems like pretty general knowledge that a majority of felines copulate with multiple males during heats. It’s not like there are many mammals at all that are monogamous, even temporarily)

  • kygal

    The last line of the article is what really got me:
    “This is good news for conservation as the genetic diversity of future generations of cheetah will be preserved by their duplicitous behavior.”
    Why is their behavior “duplicitous”??? That implies thinking — the female cheetah tricking all the other male cheetahs. Unless there’s some biological connotation to the word I don’t know . . .

  • ShifterCat

    Oo, that’s cool to know, Seriously. Thanks. :)