‘Support Dogs’ Helping Shy Zoo Cheetahs Procreate


When it comes to speed, there’s no land animal faster than the cheetah. What’s lesser-known about this majestic animal is that it’s equally shy in nature?

Zookeepers have long known that when Cheetahs get anxious, they stop procreating. So they devised an ingenious way to help them deal with (performance) anxiety and help them get their groove on – ‘Emotional Support Dogs’. Dogs have a long and dependable reputation for providing emotional and physical support to the visually-impaired, ill and the elderly. Now they are doing the same for cheetahs in captivity so that they don’t become extinct. The cheetahs take cues from the dogs, learning to be more relaxed and less-stressed. When the cheetahs are calm and more relaxed, they’re able to start mating again.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park has been successfully helping the Cheetahs by assigning them companion dogs since the 1980s.

Here are some pictures of such a pair from Columbus Zoo :

Meet 10-week-old cheetah cub, Emmett.

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And his 7-week-old puppy buddy, Cullen.

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Cullen will help Emmett to be more confident.

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As cheetahs are naturally skittish animals.

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Emmett will travel to meet his cousins in the wild.

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And Cullen will be with him every step of the way.

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“A dominant dog is very helpful because cheetahs are quite shy instinctively, and you can’t breed that out of them,” explains Janet Rose-Hinostroza, animal training supervisor at the Park. “When you pair them, the cheetah looks to the dog for cues and learns to model their behavior. It’s about getting them to read that calm, happy-go-lucky vibe from the dog.”

CBS News

The interspecies friendship formed by the cheetah and dog is helping the shy cheetah to breed with their kind. The cubs are paired with the pups when they are 3-4 months old. So, the initial meet is done from the opposite sides of the fence with leashes. Later, when the two animals form a bond they are moved to a shared living space where they spend every moment together, except feeding time.

CBS News

“The dog is the dominant in the relationship, so if we didn’t separate them, the dog would eat all the cheetah’s food and we’d have a really skinny cheetah and a really chubby dog,” explains Rose-Hinostroza.

CBS News

The canines used in this project are mostly rescued and sheltered dogs. And this new partnership gives both species a new purpose to live for.

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