Former shelter dogs Max, Alexa, Hopper and Mtani are playing very important roles to save endangered cheetahs. Each is helping the fastest mammal in the world from becoming extinct by serving as a playmate and companion.
Cheetahs appear unflappable, but most living in zoos and wildlife parks are not considered good breeding candidates because they are skittish. In many cases they have been abandoned by their mothers and lack the confidence to relate to other cheetahs. This is placing the endangered species at greater risk of going extinct. However, the big cats overcome their “scaredy-cat” tendencies when they are paired with dogs as companions.
“It is all about comforting and reassuring the cheetah,” said Janet Rose-Hinostroza, animal training supervisor at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park — the top U.S. breeder of cheetahs in captivity.
Of the 19 cheetahs at Safari Park, four have dog friends. Hopper, a 40 lb. Shepherd mix, watches over Amara “the toughest female cheetah” at the park. Rose-Hinostroza says Hopper’s most important role is “being her best friend.”
Another dog named Yeti, an Anatolian shepherd and the only non-rescued pup, is the companion for two cheetahs, Shiley and Johari.
Max, a Labrador retriever mix at the Cincinnati Zoo was introduced to Savanna, a cheetah cub when he was 13-weeks-old. They joined Alexa and big cat, Sahara at the zoo.
Last year Care2 reported on Mtani, a yellow Lab puppy who was paired with a cheetah named Kasi at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. The duo celebrated their one-year anniversary together.
Generally the dogs meet their new best friends when they are about 3-months-old. Zoo officials look for dogs that want to be someone’s buddy. Once grown, the dogs become the leader of their small pack and watch over their companions. The San Diego Zoo reported how a 2-year-old female dog would take the leash of her cheetah in her mouth and lead the big cat around.
No one is sure when the idea of cheetahs and dogs started, but Anatolian shepherds have been used for decades in Namibia to protect goat herds. The 150 lb. dogs are fearless and ward off attacks by lions and leopards.
In 1981 a pair of cheetahs were given to the San Diego Zoo on the condition they be given dogs because they were used to them.
Dogs have helped cheetah conservation in Africa. “For the first time in 30 years, the cheetah population in the wild is on the rise,” said Rose-Hinostroza.
A century ago there were 100,000 cheetahs living in the wild. Today there are less than 12,000 and the species is considered extinct in 13 countries. Since starting the San Diego program, 135 cheetahs have been born at the park.
Although the dogs and big cats live together, they are not always with each other. The dogs eat separately and are given breaks for play dates with other canines and humans.
Photo Credit: BuckeyeBeth