Humans aren’t the only ones who use service dogs; these wild cats are paired up with happy-go-lucky labradors and retrievers to ease their anxiety. Some thirty odd years ago, a zoo in San Diego decided to pair their cheetahs with support pups to encourage them to relax. The first ever pair was Arusha, a male cheetah, and Anna, a female golden retriever, in 1980.
In the canine-cheetah relationship, dogs are classically the more dominant animal. Cheetahs have heightened flight responses, their main defense mechanism is their ability to run 70 mph (120 kmh). They receive cues on how to react to situations from their dominant counterpart, in this case a cheerful canine. The dogs greet most situations with a happy, fearless attitude – allowing the cheetah to overcome their anxiety.
Kumbali was a nervous cheetah cub born in captivity in the Metro Richmond Zoo, Virginia. Kumbali was losing a dangerous amount of weight as a baby because his mother wasn’t producing enough milk for him and his siblings. The cheetah runt was bottle fed by the zoo staff and nursed back to health, but when returned back to his family he was rejected.
Kumbali started showing signs of anxiety and depression. Cheetah cubs have a high mortality rate and, fearing the worst, the zoo decided to provide Kumbali with an adopted brother instead.
Generally, in the wild, cheetahs form coalitions with their brothers and are a social animal. Without the rest of his litter, Kumbali was lonely. Enter Kago, a labrador mixed breed puppy rescued from a high kill shelter in Alabama. Kago had a bleak future before the Richmond Zoo stepped in, with over half of the homeless animals in Alabama’s high kill shelters being put to sleep.
Kago and Kumbali were both born in May of 2015. They were introduced on July 18th, 2015 and have been inseparable ever since. The unlikely duo do everything together including birthday parties, meeting new animals like penguins, and discovering what snow is. You can check them out on the Metro Richmond Zoo YouTube channel being adorable af.
For more unlikely animal friendships, check out Pumpkin and his Potcake rescue squad.