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Sahara and Alexa

Zoo officials share Alexa and Sahara's unique story with students at a local school.

Sahara and Alexa are the best of friends. What's unconventional is that Alexa is an Anatolian Shepherd Dog and Sahara is a Cheetah, dispelling the myth that dogs and cats cannot get along.

Known for their fierce guardian skills, the seven-year-old Anatolian Shepherd Dog loves nothing better than to romp and play with seven-year-old Sahara. The two have been residents of the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio since they were both two months old. They are part of a conservation program that the zoo designed to ensure the survival of the African Cheetahs.

Linda Castaneda works with the Cheetah Conservation Fund of Africa and explains that the "point of the Cat Ambassador Program is to protect Cheetahs from overzealous farmers in Namibia and South Africa. We want to show the farmers that the cheetahs do have respect for the dog and that, more importantly, the dog has no fear of the cat."

ASDs have been breed in Turkey for thousands of years, are easy to train, fiercely loyal guard dogs and possessive towards "their" property. The program wants to convince farmers that if they employ an Anatolian Shepherd Dog, the dog will chase away the Cheetah, eradicating the need to shoot them. Castaneda describes the ASD as a "non-lethal predatory solution."

Though Alexa and Sahara have a great friendship, playtime can, at times, become rough. That's when 100-pound Alexa decides to let 85-pound Sahara know that she has gone too far. They will have an "eyeball to eyeball moment" and both will know that playtime is over.

Both animals have separate enclosures within the zoo, but once they are reunited, it is just like they have never been apart. Caution is used with Alexa because she is considered a zoo animal and spends most of her time with cats. She is not allowed near other domesticated dogs "in case she tries to eat them."

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