Kumbali and Kago, Cheetah Cub and Puppy Friendship

Oct 6, 2015

The Metro Richmond Zoo is excited to announce a unique companionship between a cheetah cub and a puppy.

Kumbali was born on May 12, 2015, to Khari and Hatari, in a litter of four cheetah cubs.

When he was two weeks old, animal caretakers at the MRZ noticed that he wasn’t gaining weight. In fact, he was losing weight, making him the runt of his litter. We removed the cub to bottle-raise him, with the hope of being able to boost his weight, and then eventually reintroduce him to his family.

However, we discovered that his mom, Khari, was not producing enough milk for her three cubs. Only 2 of her 8 nipples were functioning, so zoo staff decided to keep hand-raising the cub to ensure his health and growth.

We instantly fell in love with him.

And we needed to find the perfect name. We searched for hours and hours, scouring our resources, in search of his name. We narrowed our list of names, one by one.


It just had a ring to it that we couldn’t ignore.

Kumbali has steadily gained weight since we had to hand-raise him.

His motor skills have improved, and he loves to jump, run, lick, and play. Despite his young age, he has already demonstrated incredibly quick speeds.

When he was smaller, similar to a house cat, he liked to use his caretakers like a piece of furniture. When he got tired, he would sprawl out on top of them until he found the most comfortable position for sleeping. We knew he was content when he made his loud purring noise.

Just like his siblings, he has had periodic veterinarian check-ups, and he is receiving his immunization shots.

Even though he is on a mostly meat diet now, we still can’t reintroduce him to his family. At this age, if we put him back with his mom and siblings, the mother would most likely consider him a threat.

Cheetahs are quite different from their cousins– the lions and tigers. They are inherently wired for “flight” instead of “fight”, making them incredibly fast scaredy cats. They are nervous and easily frightened animals.

Despite their anxious habits, male cheetahs are social animals. In the wild, they form coalitions with other males–usually their brothers. Kumbali was in need of a companion- and not of the human sorts. Man’s best friend would soon become cheetah’s, too.

Dogs have been used as companion animals to cheetahs for over thirty years. The San Diego Zoo pioneered this idea and has had many successful cheetah-dog companionships. Other zoos have also initiated this practice.

This symbiotic relationship would never happen in the wild; however, we believe the positive outcomes outweigh any negative. As the two grow up together, they create a bond that becomes almost inseparable, sibling-like. They provide companionship for each other. The dog has a calming influence because the cheetah will take behavioral cues from the dog– learning not to fear his surroundings, but instead embracing them with confidence. The dog normally becomes the dominant figure in the relationship by becoming the protector and leader. The cheetah will not hurt or kill his friend.

With this plan in mind, we obviously had something missing. We wanted to find a rescue animal– an animal that could be given a new meaning– a new home, a new friend, and a new life. But it had to be the right puppy. It needed to have a calming, yet fun-loving personality. Labs are well-known for these qualities, so we searched tirelessly trying to find the right lab mix puppy at the appropriate age.

We contacted many local (and not so local) rescues and shelters. Some of them flat out turned us down, too skeptical of this approach, because of a lack of understanding. Some of them wanted to help but didn’t have any puppies. We started to get a little bit discouraged until we received a call from The Art of Paws.

They were excited and willing to help us out. After showing us a picture and a video of one of their 10-week-old puppies, we knew we had found him.



The Art of Paws graciously offered to donate him to us. We adopted him on Saturday, July 16, 2015.

Kago is a lab mix puppy. The Art of Paws rescued him from a high-kill shelter in Alabama. He was brought to Virginia, where we ultimately found him through a cooperating rescue organization, AWOL MUTTS.

We instantly fell in love with him, too. However,  Kumbali’s opinion of him was more important than our own. After slowly introducing the two, they quickly assumed the title of friends. Now Kumbali can jump, run, lick, and play with his pal Kago.

They don’t even seem to recognize their differences in species, size, or color. There is only acceptance. Maybe we, as humans, have some things to learn from these two.

Considering that their diets are completely different, feeding time can present a little bit of a challenge. They are fed at the same time but briefly separated.

What are the plans for Kumbali and Kago?

Short-term: The two of them will continue to nurture and strengthen their bond. There could possibly be brief educational meetings supervised by animal caretakers in a public exhibit. There will definitely be updates on our Facebook page.

Long-term: Kumbali will become an ambassador animal– one who represents his species for the benefit and encouragement of its conservation. Kumbali and Kago will live out their lives together.


Update: Kumbali and Kago live in a habitat next to Otter Cove. They can be seen throughout the day.