The Birds and The Bees and Cheetahs


Zoologists like myself study the animal kingdom so we humans can develop a better understanding of animals and the role they play in maintaining our ecosystems. Zoologists also study animals so we can learn how to help conserve their populations. This has become critically important today, as more than 600 species are teetering on the brink of extinction. The cheetah, which is the animal that I have chosen to study, has a population of fewer than 10,000, down from 100,000 a century ago. With so many endangered species, scientific studies focused on animals’ sexual reproduction, sexual behavior and mating systems provide invaluable data that aids in developing management strategies and setting conservation priorities.

Nature has slightly different rules for the dating game when it comes to the animal kingdom. Like with humans, monogamy, polygamy and promiscuity exist, but there are some idiosyncrasies that have to do with the fact that animals are guided more by natural instinct and less by what their parents may think of a prospective mate. Some species mate for life, like the bald eagle, the white-handed gibbon or the Kirk’s Dik-dik, a type of African antelope (despite its name implying a penchant for multiple partners). Others are more “dating friendly,” having many different mates over the course of a lifetime, and considered polygamous, like marmosets, whales and honey bees.

In the animal kingdom, three types of polygamy exist. When a male has exclusive rights to more than one female mate, the mating system is known as polygyny; when a female mates exclusively with several males during a breeding season it is called polyandry. Then there is the animal mating strategy polygynandry for which there is no human equivalent (unless perhaps you join a swingers’ club or happened to be around during the Summer of —> Read More