Why Big Cat Rescue Doesn't Have Cheetah or Jaguars
The reason Big Cat Rescue doesn't have cheetah is they are so inbred that they are virtually identical and don't live very long, so they don't end up in need of rescue. They are nearly impossible to breed in captivity so most zoos have to take them from the wild or they buy them from breeders who are not open to the public.
They don't breed well in zoos because females are very fussy about picking a male, so the breeding farms put a female in a pen and then one by one try her with different males by using a tunnel system, like ours, but much much larger (measured in acres). They have to be in huge pens or they stress and die. In the wild they patrol home territories of more than 800 square miles so no cage is really going to be suitable. Any time you introduce adult cats you have a very real threat of them killing each other.
Their severe inbreeding is the result of all cheetah, not just the captive ones, making them all almost identical.
The current theory is that they became inbred when a "natural" disaster dropped their total world population down to less than seven individual cheetahs. They went through a "Genetic Bottleneck", and their genetic diversity plummeted. They survived only through brother-to-sister or parent-to-child mating. According to the enzymes, humans rate at about 70% identical. But laboratory rats and cheetahs rate at 97% identical. Scientist think less than seven individuals, because it has been shown that if a population is reduced to seven individuals and then expands quickly, the offspring still retain about 95% of their genetic variability. But cheetahs have almost zero genetic variability - there's hardly any difference between them.
If a species does not have much genetic diversity, it will not be able to adapt well to changes in their environment - such a climate change, or new bacteria or viruses. But if they do have a lot of genetic difference from one individual to the next, at least a few of them will be able to survive the changing times.
Because cheetah cost over $50,000 and mostly have to be brought in from the wild, which is a red tape process that takes nearly a year, and then they die young, they almost never end up being dumped into the pet trade. If someone says they have rescued a cheetah, demand to see the paperwork, because that almost never happens without a lot of money changing hands. While much of the paperwork is marked as a "Donation" you can bet money changes hands when cheetah do.
I haven't found evidence to support my theories about why jaguar are so rare in captivity. Maybe you can help in the comments. Here's my best guess:
Jaguar can have four cubs in a litter, but two is more common, so they don't reproduce nearly as fast as lions and tigers. Jaguar have the superior intelligence of leopards but have far more powerful bites and much more bobcat like personality, so they kill people more often than leopards in captivity do.
Even a jaguar who is too old for breeding will fetch $7500.00 or more in the private sector, because it is so rare that jaguars are dumped from zoos into private hands. We know that two old circus jaguars were sold to a private collector in Florida for at least that much because we had offered to take them when the circus lost its license. The end buyer called us to say the circus told her we were bidding 7500. each and she wanted to work out a deal with us where we were not bidding against her. The circus had lied to her, because we don't buy animals to rescue them (since the 90s) and we had not offered any money for the cats. That call from the end buyer did give us a glimpse into how much they are traded for though and the fact that some places claim to rescue rare cats, but are really just buying them.
We know from our work in situ with native tribes that zoos pay people to poach cheetah, jaguars and other rare cats from the wild. The zoo's PR story will always be that it was a "nuisance" animal that was going to be culled so they rescued it, but that's almost never the truth when it comes to any exotic cat species.
Local people agree to back up the lie, because that's how they keep the constant flow of money coming in for their poaching, but if you work amongst them long enough, they will tell you that they are being paid to go find animals for zoo displays. Because the import process takes a long time to get past USFWS rules, the animals languish in tiny, barren cages, and often die and have to be replaced before the day of flight to the U.S. The only way for them to obtain the valuable cubs is usually to kill their mothers.
Wild cats belong in the wild, so please don't pay to go see them in cages. Help us end the private possession of big cats at BigCatAct.com