Tuesday, January 6, 2009 3:09 AM
By Jeb Phillips
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Two baby cheetahs, brothers, came to the Columbus Zoo about six weeks ago.
The zoo named them Ro and Reh (pronounced Ray), and decided that they could be used best not for display but for education and to promote cheetah conservation.
The brothers would live together, but one might go with Jack Hanna for an appearance on a national television show, while the other might visit local schools.
Ro and Reh, born at the Cincinnati Zoo, hate to be apart, though. They cry for each other. Suzi Rapp, the zoo’s director of promotions and animal encounters, saw that right away.
She has raised cheetahs and knows about their personalities. Females like being by themselves, but Ro and Reh would always get lonely without each other, she said. She needed to find them some friends.
Cheetahs are a threatened species, but in Namibia, farmers kill them for attacking livestock. To protect them, the international Cheetah Conservation Fund has worked with the farmers to place Anatolian Shepherd dogs to guard the livestock. By keeping the cheetahs away, the dogs save the cheetahs’ lives.
Rapp said zoos sometimes raise cheetahs alongside dogs, because cheetahs can be shy and nervous, and dogs help them feel more secure. It was thought that if the Columbus Zoo paired Anatolian Shepherds with the baby cheetahs, Ro and Reh would never be alone. If Ro went on a trip, his dog friend would come with him.
And besides, Rapp said, it would allow the zoo to tell the story of cheetah conservation and Anatolian Shepherds wherever they went.
The zoo found a farm in Alabama that raised the dogs. A couple of weeks after the cheetahs arrived in Columbus, Reese the puppy did, too. His sister Ruth followed.
They are two days older than Ro and Reh, who are 10 weeks old. Yesterday at the zoo, they didn’t act like it.
Reese and Ruth are still tumbling, floppy puppies, not quite secure in their bodies. They might grow larger than 100 pounds, but it’s hard to see that now.
Ro and Reh, though, are agile. There’s no mistaking what they will become. They jump and climb. They run and slide across the floor. They’ve been scratching holes in the office’s couch. Reh climbed on top of a Dispatch photographer’s head while the photographer was on the ground, trying to snap Ro. Reh is the explorer, Rapp said.
“Like it or not, they are wild animals,” Rapp said. “Just because they are being raised with dogs doesn’t mean they will act like dogs.”
The cubs and the puppies are friendly to one another without quite being buddies yet. They all sleep together. Reh and Ro seem to prefer Reese so far, but that might be because Reese has been there longer, Rapp said. Yesterday, for the first time, Ruth and the cubs were rolling around and playing.
“It’s going better than I even anticipated,” Rapp said.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org