Cincinnati Zoo: Male Dog Turns Surrogate Father For Cheetah Cubs After Their Mother Dies

A litter of five cubs born to a Cheetah mother earlier this month at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden's Cheetah Breeding Facility were faced with an uncertain future after their mother died a few days after giving birth. The female cheetah named Willow had undergone a C-Section and doctors treating her were hopeful she would make a complete recovery. However, the female cheetah remained lethargic after the surgery, lost her appetite and eventually died - leaving her five newborn cubs behind.

After the mother cheetah died, the job of taking care of the cheetah cubs was passed on to an unlikely volunteer - a male dog named Blakely, according to BBC News. An Australian herd dog, Blakely is a resident nanny at the zoo and has in the past taken care of several young animals born there. Over the past few weeks, Blakely has been unflinchingly carrying on his duties as a surrogate father to the five cubs - spending hours with the newborn cubs and cuddling with them. Apart from Blakely, staff members at the zoo have been taking turns to bottle feed the young cheetah cubs, which have been placed in the Zoo's nursery where they are expected to remain for the next 8 to 12 weeks. The cheetah cubs are bottle fed every three hours to ensure they remain healthy.

Here's a video showing the development of the cheetah cubs and their bonding with the dog.

Thane Maynard, Director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden describes why it was important for the cubs to have been delivered by C-section instead of a natural birth.

"Cheetahs are a fragile species and this difficult birth proved to be too much for her to pull through. 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."
Meanwhile, Blakely's effort have started showing its positive effect. Head Nursery Keeper Dawn Strasser said.
"They really turned a corner this weekend. They opened their eyes, had good appetites and, most importantly, they pooped! It's important to keep their digestive system moving. We've been massaging their bellies and giving them opportunities to exercise as much as possible. His first job is to let the cubs climb on him, which they did as soon as they were put together. They need the exercise to build muscle tone and get their guts moving."
Strasser also supervises daily climbing sessions and other interactions with Blakely.
According to zoo authorities, Blakely would continue to play a part in the Cheetah cubs' development even when they are older. His role would evolve from that of a "climbable companion and hairy warm body to teacher and role model," a blog post by the Zoo says.

The cheetah cubs include 3 males and two females who will remain there for the next few months. After they outgrow the nursery, they would be hand raised and further trained to become cheetah ambassadors. If you plan to visit the zoo to have a look at the new Cheetah cubs, you could see them through the nursery windows. However, feeding sessions would not be publicly viewable.

The birth of the five cheetah cubs is good news for the graceful animal - also considered to be the world's fastest land animal. Only 9,000 to 12,000 cheetahs are left in the wild today - a number that shrunk from 100,000 in the 1900s to the current numbers today.

[Image Via Pixabay]