For many years, certain zoos have been introducing an unconventional set of siblings to cheetah cubs – dogs. By pairing up with dogs, these cheetahs are given a boost in confidence and a better chance of reproducing.
It is common knowledge that dogs are a man’s best friend and provide therapeutic benefits as companions. Therapy dogs are utilized in various programs, such as for children with social difficulties and in prison rehabilitation programs. Dogs are also known to be compatible with other domestic animals, but can they also be friends with wild animals? Interestingly, dogs have formed close bonds with cheetahs, becoming their best friends. Zoos have been pairing cheetah cubs with dogs for decades to help them overcome socialization issues, gain confidence, and learn how to behave in groups, ultimately increasing their chances of successful reproduction. This concept originated in the 1970s in a US wildlife park out of necessity and proved to be so effective that several zoos adopted it for their cheetah breeding programs.
In 1976, a heartwarming tale of friendship between different species began in Winston, Oregon. The story revolves around Khayam, a cheetah cub living in the Wildlife Safari animal park, who had no siblings or companions to help him learn how to socialize with others. Laurie Marker, a biologist and the then-manager of the conservation program, decided to try an unusual pairing by introducing Khayam to a Labrador puppy named Shesho. Despite being from vastly different species, the two animals hit it off instantly and grew up together as siblings.
Dr. Marker observed that Shesho’s presence brought a sense of calm and security to Khayam. Therefore, she suggested that other zoos should try pairing their cheetah cubs with canine companions as well. San Diego zoo agreed to test the idea, and the experiment turned out to be successful. Since then, several other zoos have followed suit, and this unlikely friendship between cheetahs and dogs has become an adorable phenomenon across different animal parks.
The peculiar bond between a cheetah and a dog can be attributed to their contrasting temperament. Cheetahs are generally shy creatures and learn to socialize with other cheetahs through playtime with their siblings, which they may struggle without if they do not have a companion of their kind. These animals prefer solitude and only form a group with their cubs or young males that are usually siblings for hunting purposes. However, when confined in zoos or wildlife parks, these animals are compelled to share space with other individuals, causing them undue stress and anxiety if they have not been accustomed to it. This can lead to aggression and lack of interest in procreation, which is crucial in conservation efforts, particularly for threatened species like cheetahs.