An Australian Shepherd dog has taken on the role of mom for five cheetah cubs after their mother passed away this past week at the Cincinnati Zoo.
The cubs “immediately bonded with Blakely,” Cincinnati Zoo spokesperson Michelle Curley told ABC News. “They climb all over him."
The exercise is important for the cubs so they can build muscle and “to get their bowels moving, which is very important,” Curley said.
Blakely and the cubs meet twice a day for approximately an hour each time. Besides climbing around, the cubs also have snuggle time with Blakely and he “provides comfort” like a mother would, Curley said.
The cubs’ mother, Willow, died from complications giving birth. She died two weeks after giving birth on March 8 and was five years old.
“It’s rare for them to actually survive C-section births,” Curley said. The zoo's vet told Curley the cheetah cubs likely would not have survived if Willow was not given a C-section.
The cubs are not able to rely solely on Blakely, though. The nursery keepers feed the cubs, but they are excited to play with Blakely whenever it’s time for him to visit, Curley said.
This is not the first time Blakely has been a caregiver to other animals at the zoo. He has been working with the zoo for five years after being rescued from a local shelter when he was 7 months old.
His first job was also with a cheetah, named Savanna, who was a single cub and needed a companion.
He has also worked with a baby calf named Dale and wallabies. While Savanna and Dale have become too big for Blakely to interact with, he will still visit the wallabies, Curley said.
“He keeps them company when they’re little,” Curley said. “Then they move on.”
Blakely will be taking care of the five cheetah cubs for the next 8 to 12 weeks.