In his new book, "Frenemies for Life," John Becker writes about the unlikely friendships forged among wild cats and domestic dogs. From when they were puffs of fur to full-grown animals, these diverse species created a long-lasting bond.
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A young cheetah crouches silently in the grass, his gaze fixed on the unsuspecting puppy frolicking just a few yards away. When the puppy rolls onto its back, wiggling in delight, the cheetah slinks down even more and inches closer and closer.
Suddenly, with the explosive quickness that only a cheetah can call upon when attacking its prey, the young predator bounds forward, and in little more than a heartbeat, pounces on the startled puppy. "Yowl!" the puppy cries out as the cheetah traps it. Then the two animals tumble over and over in a rolling ball of fur and claws.
Suddenly another furry puppy and a lightning-quick cheetah cub join them. For the next several minutes, the four natural enemies chase each other around the grassy enclosure, zigzagging in and out, play-biting, swatting, growling, chirping, and wrestling each other. What might seem like a life-and-death struggle among mortal enemies was, in reality, just a playful romp, ending with none of them hurt and all of them ready for a long afternoon nap.
The two cheetah cubs and two Anatolian shepherd puppies (Ro, Reh, Reese, and Ruth) are best of friends, and they play together in an exercise yard at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio. In the wild, these animals would never live together, so why would a zoo think this is a good idea? The answer is surprising, and it's all about saving cheetahs.
To clear up this mystery, Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and host of Jack Hanna's Into the Wild television program, makes it a priority to tell people about what is going on—and what the Columbus Zoo and other concerned groups across the country are doing.
Jack says, "At the Columbus Zoo, we thought we could put pairs of young cheetah cubs and Anatolian shepherd puppies together and raise them to be friends. That would allow us to train them, so they can travel together to television programs, into schools, and to other settings to help us tell the public about how Anatolian shepherd dogs are helping save cheetahs from disappearing. We think that once people understand how important it is to get more of these dogs on more farms in Africa, they'll help us raise the money it takes to do that."
Former Columbus Zoo Director, Jeff Swanagan cited the importance of this cheetah conservation project as a perfect example of his belief that zoos should "touch the heart to teach the mind." He understood that when people feel strongly about something, like cheetahs disappearing, they become eager learners. People who are made aware of why and how cheetahs are disappearing become strong supporters of projects that focus on saving cheetahs from possible extinction. The zoo's program teaches children and adults how Anatolian shepherd dogs are helping save cheetahs in Africa. Learning more about these livestock-guarding dogs will also help people see that dogs and cheetahs truly can be "frenemies for life."
Ro and Reh and Reese and Ruth may not look like important diplomats, but they are—as animal ambassadors for cheetah conservation.
Animal Ambassador Programs are a zoo's way of bringing the zoo animals and information to the public. The programs are educational presentations in which zoo staff and/or volunteers take animals out into the community (or onto the zoo grounds) to allow people to see zoo animals "up close and personal." Animal Ambassador Programs are an important way for zoos to educate the public about the role of wildlife in the balance of nature and the critically important need to conserve all of our natural resources.
If you've visited a zoo recently, you've probably seen zoo representatives displaying and talking about different animals—from snakes to elephants. They talk about the creature's physical characteristics, behaviors, geographic range, and threatened or endangered status. Some zoos, including the Columbus Zoo, also present "wildlife shows" that feature animals exhibiting their normal behaviors as zoo staff gives in-depth information about the animals and their natural environment. You also may have been lucky enough to have your local zoo bring some wild animals to visit your school.
For many years, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has had exceptional success taking animals out to meet the public. "Jungle" Jack Hanna regularly takes animals to shows and events around the country to promote the zoo and wildlife conservation. Ro, Reh, Reese, and Ruth have accompanied Jack to Good Morning America, The Late Show with David Letterman, Larry King Live, On the Record with Gretta VanSusteren, and many other radio and television programs. When Jack visits those programs, he explains the important role they're playing in cheetah conservation, and a huge audience of viewers and listeners learn about the CCF's Livestock Guarding Dog Program.
Suzi Rapp, Director of the Columbus Zoo Promotions Department, explains, "The cubs and puppies have even been guests at the White House, where they entertained President Barack Obama's two daughters Sasha and Malia. But no matter where Animal Ambassadors go, they play a vitally important role in educating the public about wildlife and in helping to raise money for wildlife conservation."
Animal Ambassador Programs, like the Columbus Zoo Animal Encounters Program, help fund a wide range of conservations efforts. For example, in a portion of the proceeds from each Columbus Zoo Animal Encounters Program is donated to the zoo's conservation fund. That fund helps support many of the conservation projects being conducted both at the zoo and in many countries around the world—including the CCF so it can purchase Anatolian shepherd dogs to be placed on farms in Africa. Wildlife conservation is a top priority, not only in Columbus, but also at zoos around the world. Let's take a look at how zoos work together to protect animals and maintain their survival.
From Frenemies for Life: Cheetahs and Anatolian Shepherd Dogs by John E. Becker, PhD; foreword by Jack Hanna, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, copyright 2010; distributed by Lerner Publishing Group.