We all know that dogs have many uses in society. They can be used to help the blind live regular lives aiding them around town and in the home; they can be used to stop people smuggling drugs into and out of the country; and now they are being used as companions to cheetahs in some zoos.
That’s right, dogs are now being used to help cheetahs by showing them how to act.
Cheetahs, which are the fastest land mammal in the world, are renowned to be hard to breed, therefore they are in danger of becoming extinct.
One zoo where they are introducing the use of dogs as companions to cheetahs is St. Louis Zoo in the USA. Jack Grisham, the vice president of animal collections at St. Louis, is also the species survival plan coordinator for cheetahs in North America.
He spoke to the Daily Mail saying: ‘It's a love story of one species helping another species survive.
‘It is all about comforting and reassuring the cheetah,’ said Janet Rose-Hinostroza, animal training supervisor at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park - the top U.S. breeder of cheetahs in captivity.
In the last 40 years, 135 cheetahs have been born at the breeding facility within the park. It is, however, tricky to breed cheetahs that are found at zoos and wildlife parks as they tend not to relate well to other cheetahs, or they are abandoned by their mothers.
However, they do seem to take easily to companion dogs and look to the dogs for play and example.
Four of the 19 cheetahs at the Safari Park have dogs and four of the zoo’s cheetahs also have dogs. The dogs, which tend to come from animal shelters, are generally introduced to the cheetah pups when they are about three months old.
‘In this relationship, the dog is dominant, but we look for dogs that want to be a buddy,’ said Rose-Hinostroza.
‘The dog always has the cat's back, but it's never the other way around. Dogs worry about their cats. They protect their cats.’
A century ago there were 100,000 cheetahs in the wild and now there are less than 12,000. They are becoming extinct in at least 13 countries. Across the United States there are around 280 captive cheetahs in zoos and the captive effort to save the species is continuing.
However, Grisham is worried that there is very little wild left to send them home to. This is because the cat’s habitat is being taken up by developers and poachers are killing the cats for their fur.
Cheetahs live 12 to 15 years in captivity. Males weigh 120 to 150 pounds, and females 100 to 120 pounds.
The dogs come in all sizes. At Safari Park, the smallest and sweetest is Hopper, a male mutt who weighs 40 pounds. He's teamed with Amara, the toughest female cheetah on the team.
Cheetah females don't go into heat like other cats. Instead, they have to be brought into estrus by a male cheetah, the experts explained.
That's why breeding is so hard - because they aren't social animals, they live independently, and they seldom hang out with one another.
Although the dogs and cats live together, they are not always with one another. Dogs have play dates with other dogs and humans. Mealtimes always are spent apart. The dogs eat kibble, and the cheetahs eat steak.
'The dogs are the bosses in these relationships,' Rose-Hinostroza said. 'If they ate together there would be one really fat dog and a really skinny cheetah.'