Cheetah cubs at the Cincinnati Zoo snuggle with their "nanny," an Australian shepherd named Blakely. Screenshot: Storyful
CINCINNATI, March 23 (UPI) -- The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden said its five orphaned cheetah cubs are getting a little extra love courtesy of the zoo's resident nanny, an Australian shepherd dog.
The zoo said Willow, the mother of the cubs who underwent a C-section for their March 8 birth, never fully recovered from the procedure and died after losing her appetite during the weekend.
"Cheetahs are a fragile species and this difficult birth proved to be too much for her to pull through" zoo director Thane Maynard said. "Willow was able to contribute to the survival of her species by producing five cheetah cubs. Without the C-section, we likely would have lost both the mom and the cubs."
Blakely, the zoo's resident nursery companion and a former nanny to multiple babies at the facility, was brought in to fulfill the orphaned cubs' need for snuggles and other physical activities.
"His first job is to let the cubs climb on him, which they did as soon as they were put together. They need the exercise to build muscle tone and get their guts moving," Head Nursery Keeper Dawn Strasser said.
Strasser said the cubs are doing well under the care of Blakely and his human helpers.
"They really turned a corner this weekend. They opened their eyes, had good appetites and, most importantly, they pooped!" said Head Nursery Keeper Dawn Strasser of the cubs. "It's important to keep their digestive system moving. We've been massaging their bellies and giving them opportunities to exercise as much as possible."