Cheetah are endangered for various reasons. As a result, captive care and breeding of cheetah has been done in an effort to help the survival of the species, however, captive survival rates are low. It is known that cheetah hunt by means of a high speed pursuit of its prey. It is unclear if cheetah in captivity also require a certain amount of exercise as part of their physical activity regimen to mimic natural feeding circumstances. Captive cheetah are fed using various feeding methods at different facilities around the world. The effect of feeding methods have been tested in various circumstances at various facilities. Nutritional management, by means of tried feeding practices, can be implemented to meet physical, physiological and psychological requirements of the captive cheetah. The ideal nutritional management program was not identified at Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) at the beginning of this study. The aim of this research study was to evaluate the effects of physical exercise on the overall physiological status of cheetah in captivity.
The trial with the physical exercise treatments were applied over a period of seven weeks, during January to March, at HESC. The trial had two treatments, with five animals per treatment group. Animals from the two treatment groups, the control and lure group, were fed on feeding days, with physical exercise as the only variable. The two treatments were evaluated, based on physical health evaluations done by observation, and physiological health in the form of blood parameter analyses (one hour postprandial). Blood parameters that were analysed on a feeding day in weeks one, three, five and seven included; albumin, globulin, total protein, packed cell volume, blood urea nitrogen, Ca, P, creatinine, lactic acid/lactate, cortisol, free triiodothyronine (T3), free tetraiodothyronine (T4), lipogram, and 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (vitamin D3). Weekly pooled supplemented meat samples were analysed to show the nutritive value of the food during the seven-week trial. Feed analyses was done for: dry matter content, ash (inorganic matter), crude protein, ether extract, Ca, P, Mg, Cu, Fe, Mn, Zn, K, Na, and Se.
The overall visual health evaluation showed that both the control and lure animals were in good physical health throughout the entire trial. Exercise had an effect on the albumin, creatinine and free T4 levels over the seven weeks. The higher level of albumin can be an indication that the body produced more albumin in an attempt to transport more oxygen in the blood during exercise. The lower level of creatinine can be an indication that the amount of muscle breakdown in the lure group reduced over time. Free T4 levels increased over time. This can be an indication of increased activity in the thyroid gland, thus a faster metabolism in the lure group of animals than in the control group. High variability in the mineral and ether extract results from the feed analyses indicates that the CVM-supplement was not used as prescribed. Sampling of supplemented meat could also influence the mineral and ether extract results.
The current feeding method, including feed preparation, should be re-evaluated at HESC. The recommended 60g of the CVM-supplement should be added to the presented food in such a way that each individual receives an adequate amount of supplement for their nutritional requirements. Based on the blood parameters analysed in the two groups, no significant difference was found over the seven-week experimental period. Possible reasons for the lack of significant differences between the two groups can include one or more of the following: the frequency of exercise the lure group was subjected to might have been too short or not frequent enough, the experimental period was too short, or the sample size of the two groups of animals was too small. One or more of these factors could have resulted in the fact that specific blood parameters were largely unaffected by the treatments and no treatment effect was observed. Research on physical fitness, in other mammals, including humans, indicates that physical fitness improves general health, nutrient metabolism and physiological status. During this trial, the animals showed increased levels of interest and excitation while the lure was set up in their enclosures, in relation to other activities, such as cleaning of facilities. With regard to the psychological wellbeing of the animal it is recommended that the lure should be used as an environmental enrichment at HESC.
Dissertation (MSc Agric)--University of Pretoria, 2016.