Comparative serum fatty acid profiles of captive and free-ranging cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) in Namibia

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Abstract

Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) are highly specialised large felids, currently listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red data list. In captivity, they are known to suffer from a range of chronic non-infectious diseases. Although low heterozygosity and the stress of captivity have been suggested as possible causal factors, recent studies have started to focus on the contribution of potential dietary factors in the pathogenesis of these diseases. Fatty acids are an important component of the diet, not only providing a source of metabolisable energy, but serving other important functions in hormone production, cellular signalling as well as providing structural components in biological membranes. To develop a better understanding of lipid metabolism in cheetahs, we compared the total serum fatty acid profiles of 35 captive cheetahs to those of 43 free-ranging individuals in Namibia using gas chromatographymass spectrometry. The unsaturated fatty acid concentrations differed most remarkably between the groups, with all of the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, except arachidonic acid and hypogeic acid, detected at significantly lower concentrations in the serum of the free-ranging animals. The influence of age and sex on the individual fatty acid concentrations was less notable. This study represents the first evaluation of the serum fatty acids of free-ranging cheetahs, providing critical information on the normal fatty acid profiles of free-living, healthy individuals of this species. The results raise several important questions about the potential impact of dietary fatty acid composition on the health of cheetahs in captivity.

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Tordiffe, A. S. W., Wachter, B., Heinrich, S. K., Reyers, F., & Mienie, L. J. (2016). Comparative serum fatty acid profiles of captive and free-ranging cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) in Namibia. PLoS ONE, 11(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0167608

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