In possibly the cutest move ever made in the history of zoos, this nervous baby cheetah has been given a "support puppy" to play with, to help make the cub more confident.
Kumbali the cheetah cub was losing weight when he was born in the Metro Richmond Zoo, Virginia. His mother wasn't producing enough milk to feed him and his siblings. Kumbali was fed by the zoo and nursed back to health, but when he was taken back to his family, he was rejected by them.
So the zoo decided to give Kumbali, who was showing signs of anxiety, a friend in the form of a labrador puppy called Kago. Kago himself was rescued from a kill shelter in Alabama, before being brought to the zoo to meet his cheetah companion.
Dogs have been used as companions for cheetahs in captivity for over thirty years. San Diego Zoo pioneered this idea, and other zoos have followed the practice. Metro Richmond explained why they paired up the two animals:
"This symbiotic relationship would never happen in the wild," they wrote in a blog post.
"However, we believe the positive outcomes outweigh any negative. As the two grow up together, they create a bond that becomes almost inseparable, sibling-like. They provide companionship for each other. The dog has a calming influence because the cheetah will take behavioral cues from the dog – learning not to fear his surroundings, but instead embracing them with confidence."
You might think there'd be danger in putting a dog in a confined area with a cheetah, especially for the dog, but the zoo says they are quite safe.
"The dog normally becomes the dominant figure in the relationship by becoming the protector and leader. The cheetah will not hurt or kill his friend."
The idea is that now the two have been introduced, the dog will help to give Kumbali confidence to explore by himself. The two appear to be getting on well, after being introduced to each other on neutral turf.
"After slowly introducing the two, they quickly assumed the title of friends. Now Kumbali can jump, run, lick, and play with his pal Kago. They don’t even seem to recognize their differences in specie," the zoo says.
Check out Metro Richmond Zoo's adorable video of the two playing together.
And then check out this video of them, a little older, meeting penguins.
If you live near Mosely, Virginia you can see the pair at the zoo. If not, check out more information (and even more cute videos) on the zoo's website.