Here’s a not-so-fun fact that a lot of people may not know: cheetahs are painfully shy animals. Experts go so far as to say that they have crippling confidence and social anxiety issues — they are, after all, built for flight rather than fight. What this means is that cheetahs experience a higher threshold for socializing, even with their own kind.
In fact, they find it so hard to interact with others that the stress hinders them from procreating. It is actually one of the reasons their species is classified as ‘vulnerable’. This is at such odds with their reputation of being ferocious animals that people initially balked at the solution of emotional support dogs. But the many cases from the San Diego Zoo and St. Louis Zoo showcase its success.
Jack Grisham, vice president of animal collections at the St. Louis Zoo and species survival plan coordinator for cheetahs in North America, calls it “a love story of one species helping another species survive.” After the positive results at the San Diego Zoo, many others followed suit in order to aid cheetahs in need, or simply help along their socializing skills.
Janet Rose-Hinostroza, the animal training supervisor at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, explains the development of the cheetah as such:
A dominant dog is very helpful because the African animals are quite shy instinctively, and you can’t breed that out of them. When you pair cheetah cub with a guide dog, the cat looks to the dog for cues and learns to model their behavior. It’s about getting them to read that calm, happy-go-lucky vibe from the dog.
The dogs are there to act as crutches and calm down the cheetahs in case they become too stressed. They also set an example for cheetahs to follow in terms of mimicking confidence and learning social cues. Basically, dogs are those extroverts that get their introvert friends to go out, talk to people, open up about their feelings, and even be more affectionate.
They’re said to be especially effective as a stress outlet in zoos. Cheetahs are typically accustomed to dealing with their nervous energies by letting loose and running around. Being confined in zoo spaces lessens that ability and adds to their stress. Having dogs around serves to redirect those energies by either calming them or letting them expel it through playful cat-and-dog chases.
I don’t know about you, but stories of cross-species friendships make me so soft. I think it may be the fault of watching The Fox and the Hound too many times in my childhood. But just look at that adorable pair! They’re just more proof that extrovert-introvert friendships are the best kind.
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