Research project: Acoustic communication in cheetahs

Female cheetahs are solitary unless they are rearing their cubs. Males on the other hand, often form coalitions. Cheetahs communicate a lot with one another. Unlike tigers or lions, they cannot roar, but they produce a wide variety of vocalizations. When communicating with known conspecifics, cheetahs often produce high-pitched calls commonly referred to as "chirps". These vocalizations are almost indistinguishable from the chirps of birds. Cheetah "chirps" are particularly interesting, as they are unusually high-pitched for an animal of this size.


How exactly cheetahs communicate with one another remains poorly understood. Katharina Prager, a doctoral student at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, is investigating the acoustic communication of cheetahs under the project management of Angela Stöger-Horwath. A part of the research will focus on figuring out why cheetahs use "chirps" as contact calls. One hypothesis suggests that "chirps" might be a type of acoustic camouflage in order to avoid detection by other predators or prey species.


The research is being carried out at the Acoustics Research Institute at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The four-year research project is funded by the FWF, the Austrian Science Fund. Primarily, the project will take place in South Africa. Gathering data in the wild can be quite difficult and time-consuming. It is crucial for researchers to first familiarize themselves with the equipment they will be working with in the field (such as microphones). In this context, zoos offer an important training possibility for scientists.


As part of the project, the researchers will conduct playback experiments in the African savannah. This entails playing cheetah “chirps” around wild animals such as lions or prey species.