Ask Peter Gros

posted: 05/15/12
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Ask Peter Gros
Mutual of Omaha

If you missed our Cheetah: Race Against Time live chat with host and wildlife expert Peter Gros, we've got the transcript with your cheetah questions answered, right here.

cheatahfanman: Is it possible for cheetahs to be rehabilitated in the great prairy plains of the U.S. heartland?

Peter Gros: Due to the development in America's heartland, I don't personally think it would be possible, for a couple of reasons. First, I don't think there's the necessary non-domestic prey base for them to survive. And secondly, with the crisscrossing of fences and highways, and being that the average cheetah needs roughly a 250-square-mile range, I would think it would be a very stressful challenge for wild cheetahs to survive. However, I am pleased to see how well reintroduction is working in Africa.

peter55555 and elamby: How can we help these animals?

Peter Gros: First, I highly recommend contacting the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Their Web site is Also, try checking with your local zoo — many zoos in the United States are involved with a species survival program, which can sometimes use volunteers to help educate zoo visitors.

dodi954: If they can go to 0-70 mph how long does it take for them to stop?

Peter Gros: Very quickly, in under two seconds. The chase usually culminates when they reach their prey. (They have success capturing prey less than 50 percent of the time.) They have long nails and dog-like feet, and a long, flat tail, which they use like a rudder -- these aid them greatly in making abrupt stops and turns.

deacnblews: If their extinction is, in fact, due to their inability to compete with other predators, is there much we as humans can do? And, more importantly, should we interfere?

Peter Gros: Yes, indeed. We should do whatever we can, since one of the greatest threats to cheetah populations comes from humans. There will always be the threat of lions and other large predators that affect cheetah populations. That's natural. That keeps a balance of wild species in nature. However, we can affect the attitudes of ranchers, farmers and local indigenous people by offering solutions, such as guard dogs, to help keep cheetahs away rather than poisoning and shooting them.

alexis13: How can people kill such beeutiful animals? Cheetahs need to live like us. It is bad to kill cheetahs. How do people manage to wear cheetah clothing when they are killing the cheetah species?

Peter Gros: Alexis, I agree with you. I think that a cheetah is one of the most magnificent animals in the world. I think that wild animal coats belong on the animals themselves too. There is hope, however, thanks to people like Dr. Laurie Marker and shows on Animal Planet and companies like Mutual of Omaha, who have been educating people for generations about the importance of saving wild lands and wild animals. I do think cheetahs stand a very good chance of being able to live and flourish in coexistence with people and their environment.

cheetahfanman: What is the relationship on encounters between cheetahs and humans? Have cheetahs ever been documented to attack humans, whether it be mistaking them for a food source or just out of the blue, or in defense of territory?

Peter Gros: I don't know of any fatal encounters of humans by cheetahs. Generally, cheetahs are interested in antelope as a food source, and fear people. However, when the average cheetah has a range of over 300 square miles, there will be sightings of cheetahs by humans, and people misunderstand their presence as threatening rather than a cheetah just exploring its territory. As a result of the research being performed at the Cheetah Conservation Fund, the data found through scat sampling proves that cheetahs much prefer to eat wild game over domestic stock.

lmisjwanimal: In terms of look, how do you distinguish in Africa between a cheetah and a leopard?

Peter Gros: The maximum weight of a cheetah is usually around 140 pounds, where leopards get to be much larger. Cheetahs have very small heads and are easily distinguished by the black teardrop lines under their eyes, their very long narrow legs and their large, non-retractable claws like a dog. In contrast, leopards are stocky with short legs, very full bodies and large retractable claws like a cat.

nkborgardt: It's George here, the Calif Delegate from Kids Summit 2004. We've been waiting for this show ever since you told us about it at the Summit! My class did research projects on endangered animals this year. Also, we've found a kangaroo rat and are hoping that a population can be established so the recovery plan can begin. The museum here is now working on an exhibit which will feature locally endangered species.

Peter Gros: Hi George! Great to hear from you, and congratulations again on your terrific kangaroo rat project. Dr. Marker reminds me a little of you in the changes that one person can make if they are passionate about preserving wildlife -- even a species like the kangaroo rat, which some people may consider insignificant. I certainly don't. Keep up the good work.

amylynnterry: What do you do now and do you have any suggestions for someone starting to get into the conservation field?

tigger2545: What is the best way to get into this line of work?

Peter Gros: Presently I'm working with Mutual of Omaha and Animal Planet on their new hour-long specials, which we're so happy to have back on the air every week. I also spend time touring the United States speaking to students and seniors, and anybody else who will listen, about positive conservation projects. Projects that are successful, like the condor, the peregrine falcon, the bald eagle, the black bear and the alligator, just to name a few species that are no longer on the endangered species list.

You might like to contact your local zoo or science center and find out about their volunteer programs. There's a college in southern California called Moorpark that teaches people animal husbandry and care and prepares them for work in zoos as well as pursuing study in biology at the university level. Good luck -- it's a very rewarding career.

nkborgardt: Are there any theories about why cheetah's prefer wild game to livestock?

Peter Gros: Thousands of years before livestock was available, the cheetah's wild kill instincts were firmly set in place. The first solid food that cubs will eat during the 18 months that they stay with their mother is usually antelope, and the first prey they are taught to hunt is antelope. So I believe they become conditioned that wild antelope are their main food source. Also, the dogs work very effectively, since most cats will choose flight over fight when they hear the deep barking noise.

amylynnterry: Have you heard of wild big cats having problems with FIV, FIP, Parvo, etc. due to domestic animals?

Peter Gros: I have not heard of cheetahs being affected, although cheetahs can be vaccinated if they have to be relocated, and cheetahs are vulnerable to some diseases that dogs carry. All cheetahs in zoos in the United States are vaccinated for the possibility of those diseases as well. At least in Namibia, currently the cheetah population is holding its own, so I'm quite optimistic that with a greater understanding of the people who share the habitat with this magnificent animal it will be here for future generations to enjoy.

Peter Gros: Thank you so much for your questions. I look forward to chatting with you in the future!

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