A Dozen Answers about Winspear, Kamau and Amani
The Dallas Zoo is hand-raising two cheetah cubs alongside a black Labrador retriever. They’re all the same age, and will grow up together. Here are some answers to the most common questions we’re getting about the boys:
|1. Why is the Dallas Zoo doing this? Cheetah cubs Kamau and Winspear came to us to be hand-raised as part of our Animal Adventures program, in which animals visit schools, hospitals and other public places to teach about wildlife and conservation – an important part of the mission of any accredited zoo.|
|2. Has it been done before?
Yes, there have been many success stories with dogs and other species at zoological facilities. Many people have a dog and cat at home, and realize that they can get along great together. The Labrador retriever is a strong, calm, loyal breed, and when they’re outside the Zoo making visits to hospitals and schools, the cheetahs will take their cues from the dog. He’ll be calm and mellow, and that will help the cheetahs remain that way, too.
|3. Where is the cheetahs’ mother? She’s in Front Royal, Va., at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, a leader in animal conservation efforts. She had five cubs, which is a large litter for a mother cheetah. Cub mortality is high in cheetahs, and having us take Kamau and Winspear will help all three of them. We are hand-raising the cubs so they become adjusted to people enough to visit schools, hospitals and other public places to teach about conservation.|
|4. Once the cheetahs get bigger than the dog, will the dog be in danger? No, Amani won’t ever be in danger, for several reasons. First, they’ll grow up together, so they’ll be bonded to each other and will see each other as family. Second, he’ll be big enough to hold his own. Amani’s parents are both large dogs, and that was one reason we chose him. Thirdly, our animal care staff has a great deal of experience with animal behavior and training and would be able to address any problems before they develop.|
|5. When the cheetahs grow up, will the dog live with them all day and all night? Yes, the three boys will live together. Until our Animal Adventures staff is certain that they’re fully comfortable and bonded with each other, they are supervised at all times when together. And they go home with a staffer every night.|
|6. Once the animals get used to each other, what will the cheetahs do if the dog leaves the habitat? The animals will live together for their entire lives, but will also be trained so that they’re OK with being separated from one another. This will allow us to take only one of them to an outside appearance, for instance.|
|7. Do you punish the puppy or the cubs if they get too aggressive with each other? No. The goal is to make this a positive experience for the cheetahs and the dog. Through positive reinforcement training, we reward the behavior we like to see. That type of positive reinforcement is the key to success in animal training here at the zoo.
|8. What is the growth rate of the Labrador compared to the cheetahs? Right now, the puppy weighs about twice what the cubs weigh. That’s why we’re extra-careful while they’re getting to know each other. Puppies like to play, and we have to be sure he doesn’t pounce on the cubs and hurt them! They’ll grow at about the same rate; when grown, we expect all three to weigh about 90 pounds each.|
|9. Why did you pick a dog instead of another animal to be the cheetahs’ friend? The Labrador retriever is a strong, calm, loyal breed, and when they’re outside the Zoo making visits to hospitals and schools, the cheetahs will take their cues from the dog. He’ll be calm and mellow, and that will help the cheetahs remain that way, too.|
|10. What is the lifespan of the cheetah, compared to the dog?
They’re about the same, about 12 years. Although as with any species, that number can be shorter or longer for an individual animal.
|11. If one of them dies, how will that affect the others? They may grieve for the one who’s gone, as any littermate might. But death is part of the circle of life, and animals are very resilient. And it’s not uncommon for cheetahs who are raised together to splinter off to live solitary lives, so they’re wired to adjust to comings and goings. In addition, they will always have their human friends with whom they develop special bonds.|
|12. When can we see the cubs? The cubs soon will be featured on our Wild Encounters stage here at the Zoo. Check our Facebook page for updates on when they’ll be making appearances. And look around next time you’re at the Zoo, and you may see our staff walking Amani. If so, go say hi!|