Apr 19

Baby Cheetah and Puppy Pal: A Look Back at their First Year at Busch Gardens

April marks the one-year anniversary of Busch Gardens’ most famous pair.

Kasi and Mtani were introduced to each other last year and have been together ever since.

Kasi and Mtani, one year ago April 2011

Kasi was a single cub and had to be hand-raised by people. Male cheetahs can be very social and bond with their litter mates, sometimes staying with their brothers for their entire lives in groups called “coalitions.”

Kasi and Mtani, April 2012

To fill this void in his life, our first choice would have been to find a cheetah mother with cubs of a similar age that we might have had him join. Unfortunately, there are only around 250 individual cheetahs in the country, so options were limited and there were no surrogates with litters close enough in age to Kasi.

So we did the next best thing… and got him a dog. What little boy doesn’t want a puppy, right?!

Mtani was adopted from a local shelter here in Florida, so it was a win-win situation. Kasi got a companion, and Mtani got a home! When she was small we thought she was probably mostly Labrador Retriever. But now that she is fully grown, we still suspect there is some Lab in there, but there are definitely some other breeds too.

Kasi

We started the introduction sessions in increments, keeping their interactions brief and positive. At first they weren’t sure what to make of one another. Puppies tend to interact with their world using their mouth and kittens usually use their feet, so it took some trial and error for them to begin to speak one another’s “language.”

Mtani

A Day in the Life

After a few months of spending their days together during structured play time they began spending 24 hours a day together. Kasi views Mtani much like he would a sibling and they groom each other and cuddle at night. Most people would be surprised to learn that Mtani is the bossy one and usually dictates when play sessions start and end. She was bigger than Kasi for quite a while. Even though he is now 85 pounds and she is just 62 pounds, she still runs the show.

They do have some alone time now and then and get private training sessions with their individual trainers every day. Dinner time is a private affair as well. Kasi eats a raw meat diet just like the other big cats here at the park, while Mtani eats kibble just like most other dogs.

The past year with these two has been very fun as well as educational. Many other zoos have had success raising orphan cheetahs with dogs as companions and we have been able to learn from them and share our ideas as well.

Kasi and Mtani visit a local Tampa school for the Great American Teach-In

This dynamic duo now has the important job of getting people interested and excited about cheetah conservation. They are always on the go and this past year included visits to the Today Show in New York, The Tonight Show in California, as well as some other local news programs.

Kasi goes to school

I think they most enjoy visiting the local schools where they can inspire youngsters to want to learn more about the plight of the cheetah and spread the message that with a little bit of effort, friendship can be found in the most unlikely of places.

Come visit us this month and help us celebrate a year of fun and friendship!