Cheetah cubs train with dogs at San Diego Zoo

Posted at 5:47 PM, Mar 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-21 20:48:14-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- The newest cheetah cub at the San Diego Zoo has begun a training program to become one of the zoo's animal ambassadors.

10News was taken inside the cheetah habitat Wednesday for a behind-the-scenes look at the process, focusing on a five-month-old cub, Roketi.

"She actually came from a litter of six at a zoo in Texas," said Nicki Boyd, the zoo's Behavior Husbandry Manager. "Unfortunately, she was the runt and not thriving. She had five brothers who were stealing all the milk."

Because Roketi could have died by staying with her mother and siblings, she was removed and reared by humans, then sent to the San Diego Zoo.

Because of her comfort level with people, Roketi was chosen to train as an animal ambassador. That means she'll be part of the "Animals in Action" program, which gives visitors a closer view and more interactive experience with zoo animals.

Many visitors are surprised to see dogs in the habitat with cheetahs, but experts say the dogs help young cheetahs adjust, play, and learn how to interact with humans.

The training can take months. "We don't just throw them in together," explained Charmaine Davis, who heads the program. "It's a process. It's all this passive training, day by day."

Davis says they use dogs of several different breeds. More important is to find dogs which are the appropriate size to play with a cheetah, not too big or too small.

Davis says the zoo is proud to use rescue dogs. "We try, best we can, to find them in the local shelters, giving them a forever home here at the San Diego Zoo with a beautiful, spotted cheetah."