I have embedded this video before, but I have not provided a good analysis of it.
These cheetahs were captured as adults and then socialized to people– something that is almost impossible to do with feral cats!
And then they are trained to attack the adult male blackbuck, which is the exact opposite of which animals a cheetah would target in the wild. Cheetahs are fast, but unlike leopards and pantherine cats, they don’t have as much brute strength that can be used to pull a large animal down. Instead, cheetahs often try to use one of the forepaws to trip the prey when they advance close enough to it. If the animal is tripped, the cheetah has a chance of running fast enough to get to its neck before it has chance to get up.
When you see these cheetahs grab adult male blackbuck, it is going against what it normally would do, for it is obvious that a cheetah has a very hard time bringing down such powerful prey. Their canine teeth aren’t as large as those of other cats, so it takes them several minutes to kill their prey. If the prey is big and healthy, it could easily injure the cheetah as it is making its killing bite.
The cheetahs have to have a certain amount of trust that their handlers will advance upon the downed blackbuck and kill it. Otherwise, it would be very likely that the downed blackbuck could injure the cheetah in its death throes.
The cheetahs are rewarded with food. They are given a ladle of blood if they are needed for more coursing, but if their day is over, they are given a portion of the kill. One does not see any compulsory training or harsh handling of the cheetahs in this film. The animals appear to be bonded to their handlers, and they are working cooperatively.
And this does have some basis in the natural world.
Male cheetahs often band together to take larger prey than they would be able to kill as individuals. The females hunt on their own, which sounds pretty weird. A female cheetah with young would have a greater need for lots of fresh meat that could more easily be procured through cooperative hunting, but they simply don’t do it.
So cheetahs do have some amount of cooperative hunting as part of their natural repertoire of behaviors, which is why they could be used as coursing animals.
But then question becomes “Why weren’t cheetahs domesticated?”
They have all the traits that would make a good domestic animal. They are readily tamed and made docile– so docile that they allow hunters to put hoods over their heads while they are holding their prey in their jaws.
But no cheetah courser ever bred enough cheetahs in captivity to maintain a population large enough for any kind of selective breeding. Cheetahs are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity, and modern zoos were not able to produce a live cheetah birth until 1960. People have been trying to breed coursing cheetahs since time of the Ancient Assyrians and Egyptians, and although they might have produced a cub here and there- they were largely unsuccessful in their endeavors.
The Indian nobles were never able to breed cheetahs, even when they devoted great resources to the project. One noble kept a thousand cheetahs, and he tried virtually every technique he could imagine to produce cubs. He failed miserably.
This inability to reproduce has traditionally been blamed upon the fact that cheetahs are quite inbred. It is estimated that their worldwide population was reduced to 7 individuals 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, which is bad enough, and in the past 150 years, cheetahs have experienced a massive population collapse. Their entire Asian range has been reduced to some isolated pockets in Iran, and their range in Africa has been greatly fragmented. So they were already quite inbred from natural causes, and it has been made worse through hunting and habitat destruction.
Male cheetahs do have low sperm counts. More than 75 percent of male cheetah sperm is malformed, but this doesn’t stop cheetahs in the wild from reproducing. It turns out that the reason why cheetahs have such a hard time reproducing is that they have an elaborate courtship ritual. Male cheetahs, which band together as previously mentioned, chase the female when she is estrus. They chase her for several days, and this activity stimulates her into ovulation. In captivity, male cheetahs were never really given this opportunity, and most would-be cheetah domesticators wouldn’t have the space or the understanding to get this mating ritual correct.
And if one has to allow cheetahs their courtship chase, it soon becomes obvious.
If you can breed coursing dogs in the basement, why would you ever breed cheetahs?
The coursing dog might not be as fast as the cheetah, but it’s pretty darn close to the cheetah in its conformation and utility. And it is very easy to breed. It requires almost no knowledge to get them to breed. Just make sure you have a male and a female.
And if they are easy to breed, then you can produce lots of offspring from which one can selectively breed.
Cheetahs don’t have that utility.
As much as I enjoy watching this cheetah coursing clip and thinking of what might have happened had we had some better understanding of cheetah reproduction, I know that the cheetah simply was not going to become a domestic animal. I don’t know how this species would have withstood all the intense selection that is necessary for domestication. Although these animals are readily tamed, there would always be a desire to breed a cheetah that was even tamer, and with an animal with such finite genetic diversity, it is unlikely that captive strains would have been viable in the long term.
It’s just one of those animals that appears to have been the ideal hunting partner, but its natural history precluded it from ever reaching this status.
I am unfamiliar with the dietary strictures for Muslims regarding the animals that cheetahs catch, but I have come across the strictures for those that a dog catches. Are these rules the same for cheetahs?
I’m just curious, for it might explain why cheetahs were preferred over dogs in some cultures.
This video says “India,” but at the time, India was a British possession that included the country we call India today and the countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh. This footage could have easily been taken in what is now Pakistan, and considering the religion of the hunters, it probably was.
Oh. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it:
Cheetahs are returning to India!
They aren’t going to be used to course blackbuck.
They might be coursing blackbuck, but they will be doing it on their own as native Indian wildlife.
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