At the Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey, a resident cheetah has a surprising best friend – a dog. “Bowie” the Labrador retriever and “Nandi” the cheetah have lived together since they were both just a few weeks old.
The two were paired together because, according to the zoo, cheetahs are shy by nature. Having a dog by their side helps cheetahs build their confidence.
“Bowie has a very important job here, which is to be, kind of, her confidence builder. So cheetahs are naturally skittish by nature. One of the things that allows us to bring her out and do educational presentations like this is having Bowie by her side,” Charlotte Trapman-O’Brien of the Turtle Back Zoo explained to CBS New York.
Bowie has been trained like a therapy animal to help ease Nandi’s anxiety. The two have become inseparable and can be spotted sharing toys and wrestling in the snow together.
“Bowie, always cool as a cucumber, ensures Nandi that there is nothing to feel nervous about. Wherever Nandi goes, Bowie comes along too so that she always feels comfortable,” the zoo explained in a Facebook post.
The friendship between the puppy and the predator has delighted social media users.
“Such a beautiful pair!” wrote one Facebook user. “Such wonderful friends,” another said.
According to Atlas Obscura, the practice of rearing young cheetahs with dogs has become a major way to calm the nervous cats at US zoos.
Many zoos in the country pair up their cheetahs with dogs to help them relax. At the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, for example, Emmett the cheetah is friends with Cullen the Labrador retriever.
“Companion dogs act as a surrogate for cheetah siblings,” research scientist and conservation biologist Laurie Marker explained to Atlas Obscura. “It is the friendship between the two individuals that creates a strong bond, and this is what makes for a successful pairing.”