Kris and Remus have made news worldwide with their friendship and as their care team, we couldn’t be happier to share their stories. We wanted to give everyone an update on how the pair are doing with that friendship and their journeys to become excellent animal ambassadors.
The Cat Ambassador Program has been inspiring people for years through our educational programming and experiences. Our cheetahs serve as ambassadors for their African counterparts to inform guests on the plight of the cheetah, educate about cheetah’s natural histories and inspire people to want to help save wildlife. A cheetah in our program has many ways to be an ambassador, from running in our cheetah encounter during warmer months to making appearances in classrooms, special events and traveling to programs all over the city. The training that goes into making successful ambassadors starts from day one of hand raising them as cubs and goes throughout their entire lives. The cheetahs are always given the choice to participate or not in this kind of programming, but they almost always choose to do so because it is such a positive experience for them. Kris’ training has been very successful so far and she is shaping up to be an incredible ambassador cheetah.
One of the more advanced training tasks we do with our cheetahs is our indoor classroom-style programming. The cheetahs are trained to walk on a leash into a crate in our van, travel to a program, walk out into a room and stand on a table while we talk about them. The environments they go to can change, but we always try to keep the set up consistent so that the cheetahs know what to expect in a new environment. The cheetahs learn that they will always be in a place with their core care staff and there is a mutual trust between the trainers and cheetahs that makes both comfortable in new or different environments. This is one of the reasons that building a bond between trainer and cheetah at a young age is vital to the training process. The cheetah seeks comfort from her trainers and knows that they will never put her in an unsafe situation. This was one of the main reasons trainers spend the night with Kris, that bond made at a young age will persist throughout her entire life. This bond has helped immensely in Kris’ training.
Kris has already done her first off-grounds program and acted like she has been doing this for years. It was an appearance where the founder of our program, Cathryn Hilker, was there and Cathryn was very impressed with how well Kris is doing already as an ambassador cheetah. We have slowly been building up to this first off-grounds program by working with Kris daily on leash training. We have done tons of smaller scale mock programs, programs in rooms she’s familiar with at the zoo, and slowly introduced her to people by starting with zoo staff as her audience. She is gradually making her way around the zoo getting used to different spaces where she will be doing appearances in the future. We are always sure to go at a pace that Kris is comfortable with. She is actually quite advanced for her age when it comes to a growing cheetah ambassador, she is smart, bold and confident.
Another part of being an ambassador is learning to run in our Cheetah Encounters. Kris is finally up to date on all her vaccinations, so she was cleared to start spending time outdoors. Usually, it takes our cheetahs months to get comfortable enough to go play in our large Cathryn Hilker Running yard, but when Kris was first given the opportunity to go out there, she showed no hesitation. She ran and chased after her companion dog Remus for nearly a half-hour. This is one of the many reasons we get our solo cheetah’s puppies to grow up with. It allows them to feel comfortable in a new space but mainly allows her to participate in all the essential predator play she needs as a growing cheetah.
The chasing and play also help her to build up her endurance to one day run the entire length of the yard chasing after a lure during our cheetah encounters. We will not start running her on the lure machine for a while, she still has a lot of growing to do first, but we are convinced she will be a star sprinter when she is full-grown. She already has great form running after Remus and her bold personality is likely to transfer over to a speedy and confident runner. We cannot wait to see how fast she will one day run!
Kris has advanced another level in her development and training by being ready to be left alone overnight with her dog, Remus. Trainer staff has been spending every night with Kris and Remus for nearly three months at the zoo. This process is essential to building a bond with her trainers, but also building a bond with her companion dog. At the beginning of overnights, Kris did not interact at all with Remus, but by the end of them, their friendship has grown to be together nearly 24/7. The only time Kris and Remus are not together is during feeding time, training or when Remus is hanging out with his other BFF Moose, the chocolate lab. They no longer require constant supervision from the care staff because their relationship has gotten so strong and dependable. They have figured each other out, their individual ways to play, when they want space or when they want affection; which happens more than not as is evident by the many adorable videos of them playing and grooming each other. This is a big milestone for them, because now trainers are no longer staying overnight. We do have a team of Night Watch keepers that will come and check on them once a night, but other than that, they’ve really grown up and grown together.
It is a sad, but happy time for Kris’ trainers. While we will miss spending all that evening time with her, we are proud that she is maturing and taking steps to become an excellent ambassador cheetah. There is still a lot of training and milestones ahead for Kris and Remus in the Cat Ambassador Program, so stay tuned to our social media pages for more updates and come by the zoo! Kris and Remus are not on a set appearance schedule yet, but as staffing, time and weather permits we do try to get them out in our running yard as much as we can so you may catch a glimpse of the two playing.