Rejected cheetah finds unexpected, lifelong cuddle buddy

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — A 7-week-old cheetah cub named Ruuxa and his 8-week-old puppy companion Raina have formed quite the friendship.

Ruuxa was chosen to be raised as an animal ambassador at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park after he was rejected by his mother and had to be hand raised by keepers.

Cheetahs usually are born in litters of three to five cubs, according to zoo officials. When a singleton is born, the mother often rejects the cub since the chance of the cub surviving in the wild would be minimal. The cheetah cub and puppy, a 7-week-old Rhodesian ridgeback puppy named Raina, are being introduced by animal care staff at the zoo. The puppy will be raised with the cheetah and serve as his lifelong companion.

Rose-Hinostroza, an animal training manager at zoo, told TODAY.com that she’s helped acclimate six young cheetahs with puppies, but none as young as Ruuxa or Raina.

“Ruuxa is less apprehensive than the other cheetahs that have met their dogs,” Rose-Hinostroza told TODAY.com. “It was our plan all along that he would just know Raina from his earliest memories, take it in stride, and hopefully feel more like she’s a sibling. He recognizes her as another animal and recognizes her as a playmate. He seeks out playing with that dog, which is so funny. … He’s very curious about her, very interested in her.”

Despite the growth spurt Ruuxa will hit as an adult, he’s unlikely to turn on his canine friend, even when he surpasses her size, Rose-Hinostroza said.

It’s part of the zoo’s mission to save species like the cheetah, which is on the brink of extinction. According to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, the cheetah population today is about 10,000 — down from 100,000 in the year 1900. Habitat loss, human interaction and illegal wildlife trade are said to be among the reasons for the decline.

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