Dogs may have a reputation as man’s best friend, but at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, it’s the cats that are best buds with the dogs.
Since the 1980s, the zoo and its safari park have paired cheetahs with companion dogs to provide the cats with guidance and help them feel more comfortable. For endangered felines that don’t breed easily, a canine companion can make a world of difference.
“A dominant dog is very helpful because cheetahs are quite shy instinctively, and you can’t breed that out of them,” said Janet Rose-Hinostroza, animal training supervisor at the San Diego Zoo Safari 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.”
This relationship relaxes the cheetahs and helps them better respond to each other, so they can reproduce and rebuild their endangered species.
The cats are difficult to breed because they’re not social animals. They live independently, and females don't go into heat like other cats — they have to be brought into estrus by a male cheetah.
A century ago, there were 100,000 cheetahs in the wild — fewer than 12,000 remain today. But thanks, in part, to its dog companion program, the San Diego Zoo leads the world in breeding the cats. In the past 40 years, 135 cheetahs have been born at its breeding facility.
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