Kris and Remus have been maturing into great ambassadors over the past few months. They are currently training to be a part of the Cheetah Encounter where Kris will demonstrate the incredible running speed of the African Cheetah and Remus will help tell the story about dogs in conservation.
Throughout the zoo, we use a training technique called Operant Conditioning. In its simplest terms, it means the animals choose to participate in their own training. We have a reward that we give them when they do something correctly, like a treat for when Remus sits when I ask him. Kris’ treats are different than the one Remus gets, she eats raw chunks of beef for her rewards. When it comes to training for Remus, we are working on basic behaviors that you would train your dog at home. Things like sit, wait, down, and speak. He’s also learning to walk nicely with his buddy Moose as we explore the zoo during the day. He loves meeting visitors on his walks and being recognized around the park by everyone. Kris, on the other hand, has already become a great ambassador during programs. She has traveled to many different places around the city to share the message of cheetah conservation and get people close enough to care about saving wildlife. She’s traveled to news stations, the Aronoff downtown and even made an appearance at Listermann Brewery. The duo has a beer dedicated to them there and the proceeds of it benefitted the Cincinnati Zoo.
The biggest change in Kris’ life at the moment is learning how to run on our lure in the Cathryn Hilker Running Yard. As trainers we do not need to teach the cheetahs how to run, that is something they innately know how to do; however, we do have to teach what to chase and how to give the big fluffy dog toy at the end of it back to us when they are done. When we did Kris’ first run, we had to make it go very slowly so she could explore the lure and figure out that she wanted to chase it. Cheetahs will pretty much chase anything that is small and moving, so it did not take long before she started running after it. We had some nice weather a few weeks ago and had a few consecutive days to slowly acclimate her to the lure. By the third day, she was almost running the full length of the yard, which is the size of a football field!
Aside from learning about running on the lure, we have been working on increasing the stamina of Kris as she has grown and matured over the past few months. All her playtime in the running yard with Remus has helped her to get stronger and faster. One of the main reasons we pair solo cheetahs with dogs is to provide them with a playmate as they both grow up together. This play behavior is very similar to how cheetahs would learn to run and hunt with their siblings in Africa. Remus has proven himself to be a great cheetah companion dog. He loves playing with Kris, being chased and chasing her back. They wrestle and roughhouse all the time. They currently spend about 90% of their days together. We separate them when it’s time for meals, when we are training and when Remus wants to hang out with the trainers and his other best friend, Moose.
We have been lucky that the weather has been nice through the winter months, and guests got the opportunity to see Kris and Remus during their play sessions in the running yard. Having that time is great for our visitors and Kris! That time is also training time, getting her habituated and used to being out in the yard with people around. Eventually, she will be running in front of upwards of 600 people during the cheetah encounters, but everything with training takes time, patience and positivity. We feel confident that Kris and Remus will continue to be excellent ambassadors and make their debut in the Cheetah Encounter sometime this year. Stay tuned to the Cincinnati Zoo’s social media pages for more Kris and Remus content, and thank you for following along with their story!