Hand-reared Cheetah cub Siri and her four legged friend, retriever cross mastiff puppy Iris, have been busy cementing their friendship and growing together behind the scenes at Taronga Western Plains Zoo.
Siri (meaning ‘secret’ in Swahili) was the only cub born on 21 May 2015 to experienced mother Halla. Cheetahs are usually born in litters of three to five cubs. When a single cub is born, the mother can often reject the cub as the chance of a single cub surviving in the wild is low. Zoo Keepers closely monitored Halla and her cub before making the decision to intervene to give Siri the best chance of survival.
As part of the hand-raising process, Keepers introduced puppy Iris early on as a companion, and the two have been great friends ever since. Although Iris outweighs the Cheetah cub in stature, Siri makes up for it in speed and agility, so they continue to develop evenly matched. The pair rumble and tumble together every day. Their favourite thing is to play fetch, although Siri is a lot quicker than Iris.
Iris often goes for walks around the zoo with Unit Supervisor Jen Conaghan. It is extremely important that both the Cheetah cub’s and the dog’s individual needs are met. The Cheetah cub likes more quiet time, whereas Iris has learnt to walk on a lead, socialise and follow basic commands. Twice daily Iris is walked throughout the Zoo, greeting staff and other animals and becoming very well adjusted to various noises. Iris gets to see a lot of animals on her Zoo walks and has been introduced to White Rhinos, Elephants, Black Rhinos, Galapagos Tortoise and Addax. Keepers spend a lot of time ensuring Iris is well adjusted and nothing seems to phase her.
The pair have a behind the scenes area to themselves. They spend the day and night together, only separating when it is time to eat and when Iris goes for her Zoo walks. The yard has a fence that can be shut to create two distinct areas at feeding time. The area has a large grass yard with hills and logs and trees, also it has a large sleeping box they both sleep in.
“Iris is one of the best natured dogs I’ve ever seen,” said Unit Supervisor Jen Conaghan. “She has ‘puppy’ moments of misbehaviour and a wilful streak, but she knows when to be gentle and calm. She has definitely stolen the hearts of the people she works with and meets along the way.”
In the wild, Siri would stay with her mother for the first 18 months, so Iris and Siri are expected to stay together until the time Siri becomes a mature adult Cheetah and, just as she would do in the wild, becomes a solitary animal. Keepers are hoping that once mature Siri will become an active member of Taronga Western Plains Zoo’s successful Cheetah breeding program.