Unlikely friends

Labrador pup and cheetah cub celebrate a year of friendship

April 20, 2012 at 2:28 PM ET

Matt Marriott/Busch Gardens Tampa /
This week Busch Gardens celebrated a milestone anniversary for a special relationship between a dog and cheetah.

A cheetah and a Labrador becoming best buds may seem like an unlikely friendship if there ever was one. But odd as it may seem, these pals with paws are keeping their relationship alive and kicking!

This Monday marked the one-year anniversary of park guests seeing Kasi, a male cheetah cub, and Mtani, a female yellow Labrador retriever, strike up a lasting friendship at Busch Gardens Tampa.

Matt Marriott/Busch Gardens Tampa /
Kasi and Mtani celebrate Halloween in October 2011 with some pumpkins.

At the start this odd couple only spent supervised play time together, but now, a year later, the two live together full-time at the park’s Cheetah Run habitat.

Matt Marriott/Busch Gardens Tampa /
Kasi and Mtani hang out together every day at Busch Gardens Tampa.

Though this is the first cub-puppy combo for Busch Gardens, it is not uncommon in the zoological community for a single cheetah to be raised with a canine companion.

“Male cheetahs are social and often live together in coalitions,” said Tim Smith, a zoo manager who works with the cheetah team daily. “This social bond will be a very similar relationship, and they will be together for life.”

Matt Marriott/Busch Gardens Tampa /
Kasi and Mtsani were named by park fans via a Facebook poll.

Kasi and Mtani spend their days playing, training, exercising, and even traveling to schools and events to highlight the plight of cheetahs in the wild and the importance of conservation efforts.

Matt Marriott/Busch Gardens Tampa /
Park guests can see Kasi and Mtani daily at Cheetah Run in Busch Gardens Tampa.
Matt Marriott/Busch Gardens Tampa /
Kasi and Mtani help spread the word about conservation by going to schools and other events. There are only about 12,400 cheetahs left in the wild.
Matt Marriott/Busch Gardens Tampa /
Kasi and Mtani exercise with the habitat's lure system, designed to encourage the animals to do what cheetahs (and dogs) do best: run and chase!

As funny a pair as these two may be, the park’s animal experts expect their friendship to last a lifetime!

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Lisa Granshaw is a writer and producer for TODAY.com. She was reminded of the Disney song “Best of Friends” from “The Fox & the Hound” when writing this story.

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