The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

February 13, 2013

Dogs cross species barrier, help cheetahs survive

(Continued)

Cheetah females don't go into heat like other cats. Instead, they have to be brought into estrus by a male cheetah, the experts explained. That's why breeding is so hard — because they aren't social animals, they live independently, and they seldom hang out with one another.

Although the dogs and cats live together, they are not always with one another. Dogs have play dates with other dogs and humans. Mealtimes always are spent apart. The dogs eat kibble, and the cheetahs eat steak.

"The dogs are the bosses in these relationships," Rose-Hinostroza said. "If they ate together there would be one really fat dog and a really skinny cheetah."

One of Safari Park's dogs — the only non-shelter dog — is Yeti, an Anatolian shepherd. She works with two cheetahs — Johari and her brother Shiley.

No one is sure when the idea of cheetah dogs started, but Anatolian shepherds helped advance it. The San Diego Zoo was given a pair of cheetahs in 1981 on the condition they be given dogs because they were used to them.

A few decades ago, Dr. Laurie Marker, founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund in the southern African nation of Namibia, brought Anatolian shepherds from Turkey and raised them to protect area goat herds.

"The Anatolian shepherd weighs up to 150 pounds and isn't afraid of anything," Grisham said. "They'll square off against lions and leopards. They don't always win, but they are very protective.

"Marker gave the dogs to farmers to protect their herds," Grisham said. When cheetahs came looking for dinner, the dogs scared the cats away and saved the farmer's goats. At the same time, the dogs saved the cats from being killed by the farmers. There was plenty of other food in the wild for the cats, including gazelles, impalas, springhares, birds, warthogs, kudu and hartebeest.

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