The keeping of cheetahs can be retraced until 3000 B.C. Tamed, wild caught cheetahs were trained to hunt in the arabian and asian area. At times quite a number was kept at the courts of the potentates. At that time there must have been an inexhaustible “supply” of wild cheetahs, considering the fact that "Akbar the Great", mogul of India (1542-1605) alone kept over a thousand trained cheetahs in his menagerie.

Due to the special mating behavior of cheetahs there was never any breeding, so that a real domestication was never realized.

Serious breeding efforts were probably not considered because at that time people thought that cubs raised by humans were not suited for hunting. Therefore adult, trapped animals with  several years of age were preferred.

People took the view that only those cats had enough experience of hunting.



The Egyptians were the first to tame cheetahs. A tribesman brings a cheetah along with ebony as tribute to the King of Thebes (1700 B.C.)




The last hunting party in India with cheetahs took place in 1942


Current problems

For decades zoos or private institutions all over the world have tried to breed this wonderful species of big cats, which is also the fastest  mammal on earth. These efforts have become necessary  in face of a decrease of the natural population of wild cheetahs from estimated 100.000 creatures in 1900 to about 12.000 today.

Today estimated 700 cheetahs live in zoos or are privately owned, although only with very limited breeding success. So they say that in entire Europe less than a dozen cubs were born in 2003. Only a few institutions have been able to breed cheetahs on a regular basis.

When trying to find explanations they hold the cheetahs responsible for these difficulties: bad quality of the sperm, unsatisfactory or non - existent heat of the female or even genetical problems are discussed. Almost nobody blames the human being who imposes the cheetahs on keeping conditions which are avoiding successful breeding efforts, or even prevent those from the start.

For example, groups of both sexes, as frequently displayed in zoos, stand in direct contrast to the natural behavior of cheetahs. Female cheetahs in the wild are living solitarily and only tolerating a male during their brief period of maximum heat. Also big cats enclosures close to them will prevent a femal cheetah to come along with a normal sexual cycle. Even timid, and frightened animals with no trust in their keeper, which have to be sedated for even minor manipulations and transports, will not produce offspring in such an unsafe environment.

The main problem with breeding cheetahs lies in the determination to fix the exact time of heat and its subsequent toleration of the male. Due to difficulties in discovering the outer symptoms of the heat, mostly the suitible time is not identified. Alternatively, “chance socializations” with males are attempted, but are bound to fail.


Until today many experts consider the breeding with tame and hand reared cheetahs as impossible, despite the following benefits are obvious:

Especially for the evaluation of the heat, a tame female is of invaluable advantage. The specific behavioral symptoms can be put into relation to the changes (size, color, secretion) of the vulva via simple adspection and palpation. Thus an individual calendar of cycle can be set up easily for each cat.

The absolute well-being of the female cheetah, meaning a boundless trust in the keeper and the environment as well as an excellent diet, metabolism and climate, are leading to  very regular cycles. Even long distance car transportations will not cause any delay. This knowledge  enables us to fix the exact date for mating.

First successes

In spring 2004 we planned with a litter for our female “Bagheera”. The predicted begin of the heat was determined for march 28th. The animal park “Jaderberg” (zoological director: Dr. Dieter Minnemann) generously provided the mating partner “Bubi” for this purpose. After a 24 hour ride from Spain to northern Germany, "Bagheera" was mated just on time, on march 31st.




On July 1st, “Bagheera” gave birth to a total of five cubs, of which two were born dead and another two, with a birth-weight of only 200 grs, died within hours after birth. "Bagheera" was obviously inexperienced and did not open the amniotic sacs and didn´t even cut the umbilical cords herself.

Without human assistance at birth, probably none of the cubs would have survived. Moreover, only two of the mother´s dugs provided milk. This lead to our decision to handrear the only survivor “Bunjee”.





"Bunjee" three weeks old


Marc Heidenreich with "Bunjee"

Such “mistakes” of a primigravida mother cannot be explained by the tameness, because it some-times also occurs in the same way in the nature.

A few weeks later “Bagheera” was in heat again. We took advantage of the subsequent heat for another mating with the same male on August 22nd.

On November 24th in 2004, not even five months after the first litter, “Bagheera” gave birth for the second time, to five, this time strong and healthy cubs, which were all fed and raised by herself. Because of cool weather conditions the cubs were kept for the first weeks with their mother inside the house.


Bagheera giving birth to the first cub.


After seven hours all five cubs were born and suckled already half hour later.


Few hours after giving birth: exhausted but happy!



Since our adult cheetahs are absolutely tame, it is easy for us, to accustom the cubs to humans. The mother accepts human contact with the cubs anytime, reacts friendly at every approach, and thereby conveys this relationship of personal trust directely to the cubs.

Thus the animals grow up in an arrangement of “double imprinting”. From the beginning they accept humans as “co-cheetahs”, and at the same time do not loose specific behavior patterns just like hand reared cubs in solitude. This is the only way we are able to build a successful breeding stock, based on a harmonious interaction of humans and animals.



The seven weeks old cubs accept us as family members