Cheetah Cub And Puppy Are Best Friends At Busch Gardens
The bond that Kasi and Mtani have will continue to grow throughout their lives.
Cheetah cub Kasi walked over to the pool of water in the Cheetah Run enclosure at Busch Gardens to explore.
The gangly cub was nearly out of view of the crowd that had gathered to learn about cheetahs at the amusement park’s newest exhibit.
Without warning, Kasi jumped into the water.
An exuberant cheer was heard over the sound system as Busch Gardens' Cindy Davis, who had been talking about the wild cats and answering questions into a microphone, turned to see Kasi swimming in the pool.
“That’s the first time he’s ever done that!” she announced.
On the other side of the enclosure, Kasi’s canine friend Mtani, a yellow lab, seemed unfazed by Kasi’s inaugural dip. She sniffed around a tree as if nothing exciting had happened.
Kasi and Mtani are arguably the most unique pairing at Busch Gardens. Since they were introduced to each other about two months ago, they have become best friends. They eat together, play together and nap together.
“They absolutely love each other,” said Missy Brazle, supervisor of Animal Ambassadors at the park.
Kasi, whose name means “one with speed,” came to Busch Gardens in March from the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. His mother was older and unable to produce enough milk for him. The zoo knew that Busch Gardens was opening its new cheetah exhibit a few months later and offered up the cub. Busch Gardens staff took over his care, hand feeding him around the clock.
Cheetahs are very social animals, Brazle said, and they form coalitions in the wild because they find more success and protection with each other.
But the park’s other cheetahs were too old for Kasi.
“The big kids don’t want to play with the baby,” Brazle explained.
So a few weeks after the cub’s arrival, Busch Gardens brought in Mtani, whose name means “companion.” The park chose a lab from a shelter in Orlando because of the breed’s reputation for being friendly and laid back.
“They liked each other almost immediately,” Brazle said. “When they met each other, they touched their noses.”
Wait a minute. Wouldn’t putting a cat and a dog together be a recipe for disaster? After all, they might fight like, well, cats and dogs.
That’s not the case here, Brazle said. Kasi, now about 4 months old, and Mtani, now about 5 months old, were introduced at a young age, so their bond will be strong for the rest of their lives.
“It’s been done in many other zoos,” she said of the pairing, adding that Busch Gardens got the idea from the Columbus Zoo. “We don’t want them to see a human as a playmate. When they’re little, it’s cute, but 120 pounds—not so much.”
The best friends spend every moment of the day with each other, so now that they’re allowed to go into Cheetah Run (after the other 12 cheetahs that Busch Gardens has are taken out), they tend to explore on their own, Brazle said. Kasi tests how fast he can run and makes first-time discoveries like he did when he jumped into the pool on June 2. Mtani sniffs out all the cat smells the bigger cheetahs leave behind and gobbles up any leftover food.
“Oh, she found a meatball,” Brazle pointed out as Mtani picked up a discarded cheetah snack in the middle of the exhibit.
When they’re back in their own area, the two enjoy playing like brother and sister, Brazle said. Mtani pokes Kasi with a stuffed cheetah toy until Kasi plays tug-o-war with her. Kasi pounces on Mtani’s back when she’s sleeping.
“They are sweet,” Brazle said, “and just like kids, they’re growing up very fast.”