Heartwarming Tale: Dog Becomes Surrogate Parent to Orphaned Cheetah Cubs

In an inspiring story of resilience and compassion, the Cincinnati Zoo recently mourned the loss of a mother cheetah named Willow.

Willow passed away on March 22 after undergoing a rare Cesarean section two weeks prior. Despite her tragic death, Willow’s legacy lives on through her five surviving cheetah cubs.

Watch the video at the end.


Blakely, an Australian shepherd dog and a resident nursery companion at the zoo, stepped in to provide constant care and affection to the orphaned cheetah cubs following Willow’s passing.

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Known for his nurturing nature, Blakely allows the cubs to climb on him, aiding their muscle tone and strength development.

Dawn Strasser, Head Nursery Keeper, explained that Blakely’s first job is to let the cubs climb on him, which they did as soon as they were put together.

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Under Strasser’s supervision, Blakely is a surrogate father to the cubs, facilitating daily climbing sessions and other interactions.

Blakely’s role will evolve as the cubs grow from a climbing companion to a teacher and role model. This isn’t Blakely’s first time supporting young animals; he previously mentored a goat named Dale and even taught a cheetah cub named Savannah the nuances of playful behavior.

The five cubs, the ree males and two females, will remain in the nursery for at least 8-12 weeks.

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During this time, they will receive hand-raising and training to prepare them for their future roles as cheetah ambassadors.

While visitors can observe the cubs through the nursery windows, some feedings and examinations will occur privately.

The zoo is committed to ensuring that the cubs receive the best care and attention as they grow and thrive.

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