GLEN ROSE, Texas — The global cheetah population has plummeted over the last century as a result of habitat loss, poaching and the exotic animal pet trade. Zoo programs have tried to remedy the problem through captive breeding, but this kind of matchmaking can be a tricky and expensive. That's where urine comes in.
New research using cheetah urine promises an effective alternative to the usual methods used by captive breeding centers, like the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas. You see, female cheetahs are a very selective bunch. They can be presented with several potential mating partners and choose none of them. When on-site males aren't doing it for her, a center may then have a male shipped from across the country to see if there’s a match — and that's expensive and stressful on the animals.
Zoologist Regina Mossoti of the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, Missouri, has found that it might only take a few sterile gauzes soaked in urine to help the ladies get in the mood. Mossoti’s research shows that female cheetahs can smell the pee of a male cheetah and determine if he will make a suitable mate. To get the males to pee at the collection site, they drip a little cologne under it. "We've found Calvin Klein Obsession almost gets it every time," says Mossoti.
Then the male urine (instead of the whole animal) can be shipped to the female. and if she takes a sniff and finds it appealing, that’s when the potential matchmaking begins.
Dr. Mossoti's research might not only help breeders preserve cheetah populations, but also improve breeding efforts for other large carnivores among the planet's 26,500 endangered species.
We followed her on a pee-collection mission at Fossil Rim to learn about the process.
This segment originally aired February 14, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.