Cheetah and Puppy Pair Celebrate Anniversary at Busch Gardens
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay's cutest interspecies buddies are celebrating their first anniversary! Kasi, a 1-year-old cheetah, and Mtani, a Labrador Retriever with a few more weeks under her belt, were brought together last year when Kasi's mother in Jacksonville was unable to care for him. Mtani was adopted from a rescue in order to provide necessary social interaction for the cheetah cub — and a year later, the two are fast (in every sense of the word) friends.
For obvious reasons, the duo started off their relationship under close supervision — and, by the way, where we can sign up for adorable animal watching duty? Both animals were quite young, with Mtani around two months old, and Kasi only two weeks, but the early start actually worked in their favor, explained Tim Smith, a Busch Gardens zoo manager who works closely with the cheetah team and has worked with Kasi and Mtani since they arrived.
https://youtu.be/mh6latOkRH8"A lot of cheetah behavior is similar to many dog behaviors," he told Vetstreet. Having been lucky enough to visit them in their first days at the park, we had to agree. Watching the two play with their toys — Kasi favored a stuffed cheetah, while Mtani was a big fan of some of the more indestructible doggie chew toys — was a lot like watching a pair of puppies wrestling and playing.
The two never interacted without a trainer present until a few months in, when a certain level of comfort between the two became evident. "The best sign is when they're wrapped up in each other playing or wrapped up in each other sleeping," Smith said, explaining that trainers continued to be present during play and sleep for a while after these behaviors became the norm, but the animals were interacting entirely on their own.
Even though the pair has no problem playing together without assistance, Smith says that Kasi and Mtani are always in a state of learning. "Their favorite thing outside of running is probably spending time with the trainers," he said, noting that they work on behaviors like walking on leash, getting in vans, and more. "When they don't get a lot of time with their trainers, they actually start to solicit that interaction and those behaviors."
In fact, some of the behaviors came in particularly handy this week when Kasi had his one year check up at the park's new Animal Care Center. Spoiler alert: The cheetah is in good shape.
"Kasi was a trooper. We train a lot of the behaviors for these procedures, and were able to sedate him comfortably, transport him to the hospital, and we got a good look at everything," Smith said. There were about 75 people outside the exam room to witness the event, and one very special (and very social) pup. Of course Mtani wouldn't want to be too far from her best friend!