A Perfect Storm of Cute: Cheetah Cubs Grow Up With Puppy

Picture of a cheetah cub greeting his Labrador puppy playmate.
Amani the Labrador puppy greets one of the new cheetah cubs at the Dallas Zoo. Image courtesy of the Dallas Zoo.

Prepare for a cute overload: The Dallas Zoo has paired two cheetah cubs with a black Labrador retriever puppy.

The two male cubs are part of the zoo’s public outreach program, and the hope is that the puppy will act as a friend, companion, and calming influence on the shy cats. (Related: “Q&A: Unlikely Animal Friendships.”)

“Cheetahs are timid by nature,” said Sean Greene, vice president of guest experiences at the Dallas Zoo in Texas. By pairing them with a puppy, which is used to being around humans, trainers expect the dog’s calm demeanor will rub off on the cats. Eventually, all three animals will be part of the zoo’s public outreach programming, so they can raise awareness of the endangered status of cheetahs.

Two new cheetah cubs at the Dallas zoo
Two male cheetah cubs, Winspear and Kamau. Photograph from Dallas Zoological Society via AP

All three babies are eight weeks old. The two male cubs—named Winspear and Kamau—were born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia on July 8. Kamau weighs about seven pounds (three kilograms) and his brother Winspear weighs about nine pounds (four kilograms).

The puppy, named Amani—which means “peace” in Swahili—is almost the same age as the cubs; Amani was born to a Texas breeder on July 10 and weighs about 14 pounds (six kilograms), said Greene.

Labrador puppy at the Dallas zoo
A black Labrador retriever puppy named Amani. Photograph from Dallas Zoological Society via AP

Zoo staff are in day three of introductions between the puppy and the cubs. “We’re doing a ‘howdy’ process,” explained Greene. Right now, there is a baby gate that separates the cubs from the puppy, he said. This allows them to sniff each other and get used to one another.

Play time consists of a 30-minute session with the puppy on a leash to ensure he doesn’t get too rough with the cubs. The cubs got as far as licking the puppy’s paws yesterday, said Greene. “That was a big deal.”

The Dallas Zoo is not the first U.S. zoo to pair puppies with cubs. In fact, about 15 other zoos around the country—including the San Diego Zoo and Busch Gardens—have done this successfully, said Greene. “They’ve done this with Labradors, Golden retrievers, and Anatolian shepherds,” he said. (Related: “Why Animals ‘Adopt’ Others, Including Different Species.”)

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Jane J. Lee is a news writer and editor at National Geographic.