Feeding enrichment can be defined as stimulating environments which aim to increase mental and physical activity of the animal, and to provide foraging opportunity.
Readily available food at regular intervals often result in an increased levels of stereotypical behavior. Carnivores possess a complex foraging mode which they devote a significant amount of time to hunting behavior in the wild (Shepherdson et al., 1994). Hunting strategy of wild cheetahs involve stalking, sprinting, tripping the prey and a powerful bite. The motivation to perform these behaviors remains for captive cheetahs; however, the opportunity to do so is often lacking. Stereotypical pacing behavior is often seen in captive cheetahs and this behavior is likely to be derived from the motivation to express these appetitive behaviors (Mason, 1991).
Cheetahs in the wild prey on a variety of species from rabbits to small antelope, and the young of larger antelope. Feeding unnatural food items in captivity may inhibit expression of appetitive behaviors involved in the acquisition of food, which can result in aberrant behaviors, deterioration of oral health, and even alteration of skeletal morphology (Lindburg, 1988; Fitch and Fagan, 1982; Shepherdson, 1998).
- Cheetah uses its specialized visual system to detect its prey in the wild. In captivity, food can be hidden or hang on branches to give the animal an opportunity to use its acute visual system.
- Cheetahs in the wild have no control over the availability of prey, therefore cheetahs in captivity should be fed with a flexible schedule and with different amount of feed to mimic the availability of food source in the wild.
- Natural enrichment items can be provided to increase activity levels and decrease abnormal behaviors in captive cheetahs. For example, bones, frozen fish and spices are novel, inexpensive objects that can be administered easily to increase active behaviors of captive felids (Skibiel et al., 2007).
- Use whole or partial large carcass feeding