The Impact of housing and husbandry on the personality of cheetah (<i>Acinonyx jubatus</i>)

  • Kathy Baker Newquay Zoo Environmental Park, Trenance Gardens, Newquay, Cornwall, TR7 2LZ
  • Kirsten Pullen BIAZA, Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4RY, UK


This study aimed to assess the effects of husbandry regimes on the personality of zoo-housed cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus). 35 individual cheetahs from 7 zoos in the UK and Ireland were rated on 25 trait adjectives and 23 observable behaviours. Data on housing and husbandry variables were also collected. Behavioural observations during the addition of a novel object (a traffic cone) were also carried out. 11 of the personality and behaviour traits were determined as reliable using Intra Class Correlation coefficients (ICC[3, k]). Principal Components Analysis (PCA) using these traits resulted in the emergence of three personality dimensions, Dominance, Sociability and Keeper-directed Sociability. Animals’ scores on the Dominance dimension were significantly negatively correlated with the frequency of touching the novel object and total time spent in contact with the novel object. Generalised linear mixed models were used to assess the effect of sex, age and husbandry variables on cheetahs’ scores on each of the personality dimensions. Males scored significantly higher than females on the Dominance and Sociability dimensions. Age had no significant relationship with the personality dimensions. Three of the husbandry variables had significant relationships with personality dimensions. If the keeper entered the cheetah enclosure on a daily basis animals were scored significantly lower on the Dominance dimension. If prey was in sight animals scored higher on the Sociability and Keeper-directed Sociability dimensions. The percentage of barrier fence that the public had access to had a significant relationship with Keeper-directed Sociability, however the nature of this relationship was unclear potentially due to it being a confounded variable.

Data collected during this study resulted in the identification of three personality dimensions which are comparable with previous animal personality research. The personality dimensions showed some evidence of validity in correlations with behavioural measures; however the usefulness of novel object tests in validating personality assessments should be considered in future research. The study demonstrates that there may be important relationships between housing and husbandry variables and cheetah  personality. Of particular importance may be the value of Keeper Animal Relationships (KARs) which have been identified in previous studies.