Saturday, September 3, 2011

Shelter Dog Calms Cheetahs at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Here's a job for shelter dogs that you probably haven't heard of: cheetah companion. A recent news story shows Hopper, a dog adopted from a shelter, paired up with Amara, a 3-year-old cheetah at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. They've been friends since Amara was just a few months old. They often go for walks together, and Hopper's calm nature rubs off on Amara. The story says, "Trainers found that combining the calm nature of a dog with a naturally reactive cheetah made for better training."

I've never heard of a program like this before. Have you? I checked out the San Diego Zoo's website to see if I could find any more information, and I found a bit.

This blog post talks a little about the program, and explains it with this caption:
Timber wolf Akela sits patiently waiting for her trainer to give her the next command. Most carnivores at the Zoo are paired with a canine companion. One benefit of this unique relationship is that the wild animals mimic the behavior of the domesticated dogs, reducing stage fright and allowing them to feel more comfortable in front of an audience.
And this blog post, which introduces Kiburi, a new cheetah cub at the Safari Park, mentions Hopper, the same dog who pals around with Amara: "[Kiburi] has even been introduced to Hopper, one of the canine companions used by the Behavior Department."

I'd love to learn more about this program--as well as the details of Hopper's story--and whether any other zoos use dogs (including adopted ones) for this purpose!

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