Cincinnati Zoo's Dog Nanny Called Up from Retirement to Help Care for Baby Cheetah

Blakely is back in action to help care for a single survivor of a litter of three

click to enlarge Blakely and Kris - Photo: Provided by the Cincinnati Zoo
Photo: Provided by the Cincinnati Zoo
Blakely and Kris

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden has brought dog nanny Blakely out of retirement to help its neonate team care for a new baby cheetah — the single survivor of a litter of three born on July 7 in the zoo's cheetah breeding facility in Clermont County.

First-time mom Neena was not receiving enough stimulation from the single cub to produce an adequate supply of milk, says the zoo in a release, so the care staff stepped in to assist and called up Blakely, who retired in 2017, to work with the cub and help teach it animal basics.

“We can provide nutrition, medical care and some of the TLC that baby animals need, but Blakely can serve as a role model, companion and surrogate parent for them,” said Cincinnati Zoo’s Head of Neonate Care Dawn Strasser in a release. “Blakely will teach the cub animal etiquette and handle some of the social responsibilities, like snuggling, playing and disciplining, that would typically be performed by a mother.

In Blakely's time at the zoo, he has cared for several cheetahs, an ocelot, a takin, bat-eared foxes, an aardvark, a warthog, sibling wallabies and a litter of Malayan tiger cubs. The zoo says the tiger cubs were his last charges before retiring to live with a former zoo nursery keeper. But Blakely was always on call in case his services were needed.

“Introductions are going well,” Strasser said. “We put them together for the first time two days ago, and Blakely went into work mode! His nurturing and patience skills kicked in, and he sat still while the cub climbed on him and tried to figure out what to do with him.”

The cub is named Kris, after Cat Ambassador Program (CAP) supporter Kris Kalnow, and she is healthy, active and alert, says CAP leader Linda Castaneda — and "somewhat sassy." 

Kris and Blakely are currently in the Animal Health Center, where Kris is receiving around-the-clock care. The zoo hopes she'll move to the CAP facility in a month or two and they are looking for a new puppy companion for her. 

Cheetahs are currently an endangered animal, with an estimated population of 9,000 to 12,000 worldwide. The Cincinnati Zoo is one of nine institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to help create a sustainable cheetah population through breeding.

The Cincinnati Zoo is located at 3400 Vine St., Avondale.

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