10 Reasons why cheetahs deserve our attention

The world’s fastest land mammal is racing against extinction. A century ago, 100,000 cheetahs roamed the earth. Today, on International Cheetah Day, fewer than 8,000 remain. Here are 10 reasons why Africa’s most endangered cat needs our compassion now, and how you can help.

  • As the fastest land animal, cheetahs can reach highway speeds in just a few strides. They top out at about 70 mph. Mind blown.
Ambassador cheetah Winspear shows off his speed in the Cheetah Encounter.

Ambassador cheetah Winspear shows off his speed in the Cheetah Encounter.

  • They’re the only cats with black “tear marks” that run from the corner of their eyes and down to their mouth. These marks are believed to act as sun protection to aid in hunting, like “eye black” for athletes.

_DSC0012 cheetah AA

  • Because cheetahs nail the catwalk like the feline models they are. Their slender frame, long legs, flexible spine, and long, muscular tail all help this cat reach extreme speeds like no other animal, as well as helping them move gracefully.


  • Cheetah siblings Bonde and Kilima prove every day that you can actually love your brother or sister. (We jest!) These two thrive together; they’re often spotted in a full-on groom session, cleaning one another from head to paw.

IMG_9756 Cheetahs nuzzling CS

  • Dogs are saving wild cheetahs: The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia is protecting cheetahs from being killed by farmers for eating livestock. Because more than 90% of cheetahs live outside protected management areas, they end up living alongside human communities. CCF has bred and trained more than 500 Anatolian shepherds and Kangal dogs to donate to local farmers to guard their livestock. CCF’s Livestock Guarding Dog Program has reduced livestock loss from predators by over 80 percent, which equals keeping cheetahs alive. You rock, CCF.
A CCF-trained Anatolian shepherd guards its livestock from predators./CCF

A CCF-trained Anatolian shepherd guards its livestock from predators./CCF

  • Because these two goofballs melt hearts across the world. Our Winspear and Amani were brought together as babies to help teach the public about the plight of the cheetah. Amani helps Winspear feel calm and safe in public settings, since cheetahs are naturally shy animals.


  • Cheetahs win at taking selfies (and dog companions win at photobombing them).


  • Baby cheetahs are born with the most epic Mohawk on their backs. In the wild, it protects the babies by camouflaging them to look like a cutthroat carnivore called a honey badger.
Baby Winspear struts his Mohawk.

This is how you strut a Mohawk.

  • Because wild cheetahs and humans are slowly but surely learning to co-exist. With CCF leading on-the-ground educational efforts in Africa, natives’ attitudes towards cheetahs are changing.
Photo credit: CCF

Photo: CCF

Dr. Laurie Marker with one of CCF's rescued cheetahs./CCF

CCF founder, Dr. Laurie Marker with one of CCF’s rescued cheetahs./CCF

The Dallas Zoo is proud to support the Cheetah Conservation Fund, founded by Dr. Laurie Marker in Namibia in 1990. She’s the world’s leading cheetah expert and conservationist, and it all started a few decades ago when she asked, “Why don’t we know anything about cheetahs?”

CCF spearheads this day to teach about the fight Africa’s most endangered cat faces. Please consider making a donation today to help cheetahs make a comeback.

Categories: Africa, Cheetah, Conservation, Education | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Winspear & Amani: From babies to boys

Cheetah Winspear and Labrador retriever Amani aren’t your average BFFs. Some assume it’s unusual for cats and dogs to form close bonds, but these boys have been inseparable since the day they met. Slobbery kisses are frequent, playing is constant, napping together is the norm, and sticking by each other’s side is for life.

With fewer than 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild, the world’s fastest land mammal is racing against extinction. Winspear and Amani were brought together as babies to help teach the public about the serious threat wild cheetahs face. Winspear is an incredible ambassador for his species. Together, they’re helping the public make genuine connections to Africa’s most endangered cat.

In the wild, male cheetahs naturally form bonds with their brothers – it’s called a coalition. Born just three days apart and living together since they were six weeks old, Amani has grown up as Winspear’s brother, forming their own coalition.

Amani helps Winspear feel calm and safe in public settings, since cheetahs are naturally shy, submissive animals. Can you guess who takes the alpha role in this relationship? Yep, Amani’s the canine in charge.

These boys live together full time and travel to schools, hospitals, and events in North Texas, spurring real conversations about how to help cheetahs in the wild. They also can be seen five days a week at the ZooNorth Cheetah Encounter.

We couldn’t be more proud of the bond they have and the story they’re sharing. Winspear, who was born July 8, and Amani who was born July 10, will celebrate their second birthday together on July 11. Please join us at the Cheetah Encounter this Saturday at 9:45 a.m. as these BFFs devour their birthday cake.

And enjoy this slideshow of the duo who’ve grown up before our eyes these past two years!

Baby Winspear at just a few weeks old.
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Categories: Africa, Cheetah, Cheetah Encounter, Conservation, Education | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Uniting to Save Animals From Extinction (SAFE)

Three days, six endangered species stations, 30 volunteers and 4,074 people who pledged to help save endangered animals — it IMG_9092 SAFE Endangered Species Penguin CS (800x533)was an extraordinary weekend for wildlife.

On the 10th anniversary of Endangered Species Day, we joined the Association of Zoos & IMG_9106 SAFE Endangered Species Penguin CS (533x800)Aquariums (AZA) for the launch of SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction. SAFE is an incredible nationwide effort uniting 228 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to raise awareness for species that desperately need our help.

We invited guests to discover how they could help save elephants, cheetahs, penguins, and gorillas in Africa, as well as the monarch butterfly here in Texas. And their response blew us away.

“We saw that people wanted to be more personally involved,” said Ben Jones, dean of Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Academy. “They were inspired by our animals, and they wanted to be invited to help. They just needed a little guidance.”IMG_9101 SAFE Endangered Species Penguin CS (533x800)

But we also learned that while many people know in a general sense that wildlife’s in trouble, they don’t know how severe the threat of extinction is that these animals face. So we’d like to share these green actions that start right at home. We hope to inspire more conversations, ignite a light to investigate, and become conservationists to help protect what we have now before it’s too late.

My Pledge to Protect Penguins:

  • I’ll buy sustainable seafood.
  • I’ll save energy. When not in use, I’ll turn off the juice.

My Pledge to Protect Elephants:

  • I’ll spread the word about ivory & never buy it.
  • I’ll respect & protect native wildlife.

My Pledge to Protect Gorillas:

  • I’ll extend the life of my mobile phone & recycle it.
  • I’ll buy sustainable forest products.

My Pledge to Protect Cheetahs:

  • I’ll respect & protect native wildlife.
  • I’ll restore wildlife habitat.

My Pledge to Protect Monarch Butterflys:

  • I’ll plant milkweed.
  • I’ll reduce or eliminate yard pesticides.

My Pledge to Protect Wildlife:

  • I’ll use reusable grocery bags.
  • I’ll pick up 10 pieces of litter pollution every week.

IMG_9169 SAFE Endangered Species Penguin CS (800x533)To view all of the photos from our Endangered Species Weekend, click HERE. And to see photos of how other AZA-accredited zoos/aquariums participated to inspire change, click HERE.

Categories: Cheetah, Conservation, Elephant, Events, Gorilla, Penguins | Leave a comment

The latest treatments in canine teeth (and feline, and bovine, and…)

Bonde, an 8-year-old cheetah, spends most mornings prowling the Giants of the Savanna predator habitat with his sister, Kilima. One day recently, though, he spent it doing what many of us dread: seeing the dentist.


Keepers noticed that several of his teeth had darkened. “It hadn’t affected his eating, but we wanted to be sure it didn’t,” zookeeper Sara Squires said. “Cheetahs don’t have a lot of extra weight they can afford to lose.”


The zoo’s veterinary team called in Dr. Bonnie Bloom, a Fellow of Veterinary Dentistry and Adjunct Professor at Baylor Dental College and a vet whose practice is limited solely to dentistry. She is part of the team at I-20 Animal Medical Center, a 24/7 emergency hospital in Arlington. (See all of her articles, from root canals to braces, HERE.)


After the cheetah is sedated, Dr. Bloom conducts a thorough dental examination. She has a decision to make about the darkened tooth: does the patient need a filling repair, or a root canal?


After consulting with the Zoos’ veterinarians, who are monitoring the anesthesia, Dr. Bloom opts for the root canal, and also finds other teeth that needs treatment. Bonde ends up with three root canals, and a crown on one tooth, too. The Dallas Zoo appreciates having Dr. Bloom on call for such specialty treatment, and it’s always a fun day for her to visit the Zoo.


In her practice, Dr. Bloom sees the same dental issues in animals as in humans: periodontal disease, broken teeth, oral cancer, and trauma. Trauma could be from something serious, such as being hit by a car, or merely from biting a hard object. Her Zoo trips, though, involve unique animals most vets don’t see.


“I love it,” Dr. Bloom says. “It’s a challenge. I love working on dogs and cats, but these guys are even more interesting.”


A few days after Bonde’s treatment, Dr. Bloom also treats Hank, an African red river hog, after his keepers found a broken tooth in the habitat. Hogs can damage their teeth and tusks as they root for food and turn over logs.


Hank, 11, has four upward tusks, two on top and two on bottom. After the 203-pound hog was sedated, Dr. Bloom and two assistants took X-rays to see if the tooth was healthy, then filled the broken tooth to protect the nerve.


In an hour long appointment, Hank also ended up with a cleaning and a fluoride treatment. And Dr. Bloom cleaned out a fistula in his gum and stitched it closed, to prevent food from getting caught and causing problems.


Our zookeepers, using positive reinforcement, train animals to allow visual examinations of specific body parts, including their mouths. That’s how keepers caught these issues early for both Bonde and Hank. The keepers also had the animals open their mouths wide for Dr. Bloom on her first exams, giving her a good look at their teeth. That lets us avoid sedating the animal unless further treatment is required.


It’s just another example of how our veterinary and animal husbandry teams ensure great care for the animals in our care. So next time you see Hank or Bonde, ask them to smile for you!


Dr. Bloom examines cheetah Bonde's teeth.
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Categories: Africa, Cheetah, Mammals, Uncategorized, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | 1 Comment

PART ONE: Lion-cheetah habitat gets special attention

Dallas Zoo keepers are fully responsible for their animals, from their health to their habitats. This two-part series explores how some keepers care for the areas that are home to our residents. PART ONE: The lion-cheetah exhibit.

Keeper Sara Squires mows the lion, cheetah habitat grass early in the morning./Dallas Zoo

Keeper Sara Squires mows the lion, cheetah habitat grass early in the morning./Dallas Zoo

It’s 6:45 a.m. when Sara Hamlin parks behind the lion and cheetah quarters. She’s followed closely by Becky Wolf and Sara Squires, the two primary keepers of these big cats. The sun is just rising and the lions are roaring.

“They’re just saying good morning to each other,” Hamlin explains. She’s been a part of the Dallas Zoo staff for just 10 days, and she’s already used to the noisy greetings. Or maybe she remembers the male lions, Kamaia and Dinari – she used to work at the zoo where they were born. “I got to watch them grow up, and it’s nice to see them again,” Hamlin says.

The two cheetahs are allowed night access to their habitat, so the first task is to bring them inside so it can be cleaned and restocked. As with any task directly involving the big cats, the keepers work in pairs – a door can’t be opened without one keeper announcing the action and the second keeper replying with an “OK.”

Keeper Sara Hamlin trims the bushes in the lion habitat before opening./Dallas Zoo

Keeper Sara Hamlin trims the bushes in the lion habitat before opening./Dallas Zoo

When the siblings are inside, Bonde lies down next to his sister Kilima, and starts vocalizing. He’s ready for breakfast, which has been prepared the day before. The cats are weighed every two weeks, and the Zoo’s nutritionist determines how much food they’ll get. Some guests ask if our cheetahs are underfed, but these cats – with a lean body built for speed – are kept at a healthy weight.

Once the first round of food has been delivered, the keepers move into the habitats to begin cleaning. They mow every two weeks, trim bushes and trees, scrub the inside of the glass, clean any mess the animals have made, check the levels in the pool and water bowls, and set out enrichment items for the day. Enrichment is a process by which keepers enhance the animal’s environment by adding scents, toys, sounds, food, substrate and other items to encourage natural behaviors and keep them physically and mentally fit.

The cheetahs, for example, love the smell of certain human perfumes. The keepers occasionally spray it in a patch of grass, and the cheetahs will rub their faces in it and roll around. Other enrichment items include empty ostrich eggs and small hay piles once used as zebra beds. Because the keepers schedule the cats into each habitat, the food and enrichment they put out vary from day to day. The whole cleaning process can take up to two hours, including a perimeter check of the entire habitat.

Before the lions are let out in the morning, they have a quick training session, which lets the keepers check their

Final step in the morning routine: keepers Becky Wolf & Squires feed the lionesses after they've shifted into the habitat./Dallas Zoo

Final step in the morning routine: keepers Becky Wolf & Squires feed the lionesses after they’ve shifted into the habitat./Dallas Zoo

overall health. They may examine the cats’ teeth and feet for problems or sores, and if one is detected, they apply medication with an oversized cotton swab if necessary.

As the keepers move behind the scenes, all three constantly check and doublecheck doors and locks. “Being [obsessive] can actually be helpful, because you have to do the same thing over and over again and you can’t forget,” Squires says. The keepers also perform a “positive head count,” going into the public viewing area and locating all of the cats (two cheetahs and two lions or lionesses), confirming that they’re safe in their habitat.

The animals are good at being where they need to be. If any of the cats are a bit slow to move in the morning, the keepers encourage them by setting out more meat treats – but they never yell or touch the animals. Dallas Zoo keepers won’t punish animals for challenging behavior. Instead, they ignore the cats until appropriate behavior is observed, then the keepers respond and reward appropriately.

As demonstrated by the public training sessions, rewards always come with good behavior. “Everything we do is training for them,” Squires says. The keepers are constantly aware of how their actions are perceived or may be reinforcing to the animals. For example, if one of the lions is pawing at or banging on a door, the keepers wait until they stop banging before they open the door. If the keepers open the door when they are banging, the cats will continue to do it. So the undesired behavior is ignored, and good behavior is rewarded.

COMING UP: The gorilla habitat.

Categories: Africa, Cheetah, Enrichment, Lion, Mammals, Nutrition, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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