An Australian Shepherd at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens has stepped in as a nanny for five cheetah cubs whose mother died from surgery complications related to their birth.
Blakely will help the newborn cheetahs with some early development steps, Head Nursery Keeper Dawn Strasser said in a blog post on the zoo’s website. The resident nursery companion, who has also served as a nanny to several animal youngsters at the zoo, will be a warm body for the cubs to snuggle up to and will then serve as the cubs’ strength coach, letting the cubs climb on him so they can build muscle tone and get their guts moving.
“It’s important to keep their digestive system moving,” Strasser said in the post. “We’ve been massaging their bellies and giving them opportunities to exercise as much as possible.”
As the cubs gain their strength, Blakely will become a teacher and role model to the youngsters. The shepherd dog has had plenty of experience teaching others, including a young bat-eared fox and a warthog. His last student was a takin, a goat-antelope type animal, named Dale. Blakely worked with Dale to reduce the ferocity of his head butts to more gentle head butts. Blakely also taught another cheetah cub named Savanna how not to bite to start a fight with her teacher, zoo staff reported.
The newborn cubs’ mother, a 5-year-old cheetah named Willow, died after undergoing a difficult C-section, which is a rather rare procedure for big cats.
“Cheetahs are a fragile species and this difficult birth proved to be too much for her to pull through,” zoo director Thane Maynard said in the blog post. “Willow was able to contribute to the survival of her species by producing five cheetah cubs. Without the C-section, we likely would have lost both the mom and the cubs.”
The cubs will be raised and trained by Blakely and zoo staff and will then serve as cheetah ambassadors as they get older. And Blakely? He will move on to his next teaching assignment at the zoo.