RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Metro Richmond Zoo has helped a unique and adorable companionship between a cheetah cub and puppy come about.
Kumbali was born earlier this year on May 12 to Khari and Hatari. He was one in a litter of four cheetah cubs. As previously reported, one female cub in the litter passed away only a few hours after birth.
When Kumbali was 2-weeks-old, his caretakers realized he had lost weight over two consecutive checkups. In hopes of helping the cub gain weight, concerned staff pulled Kumbali from his mom so he could be bottle fed. The idea was to eventually reintroduce him to his family.
Unfortunately, zoo staff discovered that Kumbali’s mom, Khari, wasn’t producing enough milk for her three cubs. Only 2 of her 8 nipples were functioning. Caretakers decided to continue bottle-raising the baby to ensure his health and growth. However, little Kumbali was in need of a companion. This is where Kago comes in. Kago is a lab mix puppy that was adopted from a pet rescue organization when he was 10-weeks-old. After a quarantine period, Kago was ready to meet his new, unlikely companion.
Jim Andelin, Owner and Keeper of the Metro Richmond Zoo says, “You know, when we pulled Kumbali, he was just two weeks old. He was just a little guy and we had to keep him in an incubator to regulate his body temperature and feed him every two hours throughout the night.”
Kago and Kumbali were introduced to each other and after a thorough inspection and some uncertainty, the two quickly became pals. Initially, the pair were raised together in a zookeeper’s home to provide close monitoring and care. As Kumbali and Kago grew older, they were moved to an outdoor enclosure.
Andelin says, “They’ve picked up each other’s traits. They’re never separate. They’ll explore at different times by themselves, but never with the other too far away.”
Cheetahs are quite different from their cousins – the lions and tigers. They are inherently wired for “flight” instead of “fight,” making them incredibly fast scaredy cats. Despite their anxious habits, male cheetahs are social animals. In the wild, they form coalitions with other males – usually their brothers. Kumbali was all alone, so we wanted him to have another four legged companion. Even though this symbiotic relationship would never happen in the wild, it has been very successful in zoos. Dogs have been used as companion animals for cheetahs for over thirty years. The dog provides a calming influence for the cheetah by giving him behavioral cues. Dogs are less fearful of new surroundings and embrace them with confidence. That calmness helps the cheetah remain calm as well,” a press release from the Metro Richmond Zoo reads.
Zoo visitors have flocked there to see Kumbali and Kago. Tamera Wilkins Harris is thrilled, saying, “Oh my gosh, it’s amazing! I just can’t believe we have an opportunity to have an animal like this in the Richmond region, that we have a chance to get up close and personal with. It’s awesome!”