BFFs for life: Cheetah bonds with therapy dog at New Jersey zoo

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It’s often been said that dogs and cats do not get along. But a unique friendship is being forged at one of New Jersey’s zoos between a cheetah and a yellow lab.

“It surprises a lot of people, but it’s acutely a very common practice now in many zoos,” says Turtle Back Zoo animal ambassador trainer Charlotte Trapman-O’Brien.

Bowie, the yellow lab, and Nandi, the cheetah, were paired together at the West Orange zoo when they were both just a few weeks old, over a year ago. Bowie serves as more than just a friend for Nandi – he is also an emotional support dog.

Animal experts say that female cheetahs are extremely shy and canine companions can keep them calm. The friendship allows Nandi to do important public education appearances about her species, which is listed as vulnerable.

“They’ve experienced a 90% population decline in just the last 20 years,” says Trapman-O’Brien. It’s hugely important for people to understand how fast they are racing toward extinction.”

The pair spend most of their time together. Bowie does get to come home at night to stay with his human family, while Nandi stays at the zoo.

“The most important thing for [Bowie] is to be calm in a huge variety of situations, so by going home with staff members, he gets to experience more things in the outside world to get comfortable with.,” Trapman-O’Brien says.

Bowie and Nandi will be paired together for life. Bowie weighs about 80 pounds right now, while Nandi weighs about 60. She is expected to grow to between 75 and 125 pounds.

Nandi is not yet on display at the zoo but does do educational appearances.

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