For many years, zoos have been teaming up cheetah cubs with a unique kind of foster siblings – dogs. These dogs assist the cheetahs in developing self-assurance and improving their likelihood of procreation.
Most of us are aware that dogs are known for being loyal companions and can have a positive impact on our mental and emotional wellbeing. They are often used in therapy programs, such as those designed to help children who struggle with socializing or inmates in rehabilitation programs. Although dogs tend to interact well with other domestic animals, would they be able to form a “friendship” with wild animals?
Interestingly enough, it turns out that dogs can also be the best friends of cheetahs. For many years, zoos have been pairing cheetah cubs that face socialization challenges with dogs to help them gain confidence, learn how to act in groups, and increase their chances of reproducing successfully.
The concept originated in 1976 at a wildlife park in the United States out of necessity, and it proved to be so effective that several other zoos have since implemented the practice in their cheetah breeding programs.
In 1976, a heartwarming story of friendship between two different species unfolded in Winston, Oregon at the Wildlife Safari animal park. Dr. Laurie Marker, the park’s conservation program manager, faced a predicament when taking care of a cheetah cub named Khayam. Being an only child, Khayam lacked the opportunity to socialize with other cubs his age and had no siblings to adopt him. To address this issue, Dr. Marker decided to try something unconventional by introducing Khayam to a Labrador puppy named Shesho. Despite the significant differences between dogs and cats, Dr. Marker hoped that the two would form a bond. This hope was realized, as Khayam and Shesho became instant friends and grew up like siblings, not minding their distinct species. Dr. Marker noticed that Shesho’s company provided Khayam with security and serenity. She then proposed to the San Diego Zoo to provide a canine companion for one of their cheetah cubs. The proposal was acted upon, and the pairing was successful once again. Other zoos have since followed suit by exploring this extraordinary friendship.
The reason for the unusual friendship between a cheetah and a dog lies in their contrasting personalities. Cheetahs are naturally shy creatures who learn social behavior by playing with their siblings. Without this, they struggle to interact with other cheetahs, causing problems in adulthood. Although cheetahs are typically solitary animals, they sometimes live in groups with mothers and cubs or young male siblings who hunt together. However, when confined in zoos or wildlife parks, cheetahs are forced to share a small space with others, causing stress and anxiety if they haven’t been adequately socialized. This behavior can result in aggression and disinterest in mating, which can be detrimental to conservation programs aimed at protecting threatened species like cheetahs.