Labradors play with cheetahs in the African exhibit at the Columbus Zoo all in an effort to promote big cat conservation.
Zoos around the U.S. are creating unlikely pairs in their exhibit. Many dogs and cats already have trouble getting along, but now dogs and big cats are bunking together.
The Columbus Zoo is famous for its public figure, Jack Hanna, who travels the globe promoting wildlife conservation. But now the animal attraction is gaining attention with its Labrador Retriever-cheetah exhibit.
Suzi Rapp, coordinator of the zoo's animal programs, said:
"The number one question up here, this $40 million exhibit: 'Are the dogs coming out?' And I say the Columbus Zoo built the world's most expensive Labrador retriever exhibit in the world... the biggest dog run."
Coby is one such pup who frolics throughout the exhibit in a playful game of chase, an odd pairing between cat and dog. He kept a cheetah company when she underwent leg surgery this year. Coby and other Labradors that play in the exhibit are said to get along like siblings with the cheetahs.
Rapp says introducing the the puppies and cubs at a young age secures the sibling bond in the adult years. She went on to say:
"...We want our cheetahs to have all the confidence in the world. And we know we can't give it to them, but we know the dogs can."
The dog-cat combination was inspired by a real-life scenario in Africa. There, a canine called the Anatolian Shepherd is not the cheetah's friend in the way these Labradors are, but that breed is saving the lives of countless cheetahs.
True to their name, Anatolian Shepherds guard livestock. By scaring off cheetahs with their loud bark, they prevent African farmers from gunning down encroaching wildlife that pose a threat to the farm animals. These dogs are provided through finances from the Cheetah Conservation Fund, backed by Jack Hanna, director emeritus, and the Columbus Zoo.
Begun in 1994, the Anatolian Shepherd's skills have helped increase the African wild cheetah population from 2,500 to almost 4,000.
Dogs and cheetahs can also be seen romping around exhibits at the Cincinnati Zoo, the Metro Richmond Zoo in Virginia, and the San Diego Zoo, where the rare zoo bond was first formed three decades ago.