Dogs and cats are widely known to be the best of enemies in neighbourhoods around the world but at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in California, they are forming friendships that are helping to sustain a species. The park's cheetahs are being paired with canine companions to help them adapt to life in captivity and break down barriers that have prevented the big cats from breeding. Ben Gruber has more.
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES (REUTERS AND SAN DIEGO ZOO SAFARI PARK) - Shiley is a four year old male cheetah, one of the fastest mammals in the world.
He can reach a speed of 70 mph but - like most of his species - he's naturally tense in unnatural surroundings. Which is where Yeti, the Anatolian Shephard comes in.
Yeti and Shiley's are best friends…raised together since they were 3 months old, along with three other dog/cheetag pairings at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park .
According to Janet Rose-Hinostroza of the San Diego Safari Park, the bond between wild cheetah and domesticated dog allows the big cat to curb his natural extincts.
"And that extinct says flight. Run away. Do not have all of these people I don't know surrounding me with no exit, this weird camera thats on me right now. Accept all of this. How do we get them to do that? By buddying them up with mans best friend, the domesticated dog. "
Rose-Hinostroza says that the cheetah dogs behave as protectors of their cat friends. And that the relationship's importance goes far beyond making the cats comfortable around humans…it may also save cheetah's from extinction.
Cheetahs have disappeared from at least 13 countries and, in captivity, don't relate well to other cheetahs, making breeding a challenge.. Rose-Hinostroza says the dogs help their cheetah buddies loosen up. And it appears to be working - in the past forty years, 135 cheetahs have been born at the facility.
"We want to make sure that the cat is comfortable and with youth, despite their fear, they really want to play. And when they see these dogs playing, when they see these interactions they kind of can't stop themselves from going ok I want to go over their and play with that toy or I got to go check out that dog. I just have to do it because they are young and have that drive."
And while they may seem like an odd pair, the expression 'fighting like cats and dogs' is irrelevant when it comes to Shiley and Yeti.
It may well be 'mans best friend' that give cheetahs a fighting chance.