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Dog Runs with the Lions

Stories of Katrina rescues can warm the heart, and this is especially true of Cairo, a young mastiff puppy whose current home is the San Diego Zoo. Cairo is a special dog from special circumstances, and she now lives a life that most dogs (and humans!) could never dream of—she runs with a lion!

How did an offspring of a Katrina tragedy end up as a buddy to the King of the Beasts? It’s a touching story, and one with a happy ending.

Cairo experienced Katrina inside her mother. Her Italian Mastiff mother gave birth to Cairo and two other littermates in San Diego, after she was evacuated from New Orleans by a canine rescue organization. Cairo grew into a friendly, strong and outgoing canine personality, and would soon find an uncommon playmate.

On November 11 of last year, a lion mother at the San Diego Zoo was having difficulty giving birth. Because of her problems, her young cub had to be delivered via Caesarian section, requiring him to be hand-raised.

Named Koza (Swahili for “be bright” or “to shine”), this male cub needed a companion. Typically, lions live in groups, but because Koza had no littermates, keepers were concerned about his lack of companionship. His ideal friend would have to be fairly easy going, but not submissive, and tough enough to indulge in some good wrestling matches.

Enter…Cairo! The Italian mastiff puppy and the young lion cub became great buddies, but not without some adjustments. When they were first introduced, Cairo immediately pounced on Koza. The lion cub was a little unsure about such a boisterous greeting, and hid behind his keepers. However, since that first meeting, they’ve adapted well to each other and spend lots of quality playtime together. Every day, when they’re not playing in the Nursery Exercise Yard, they make “field trips” to Lion Camp, where they play in a back area—and are a subject of fascination to the adult lions who catch occasional glimpses of them.

When Cairo is not busy playing with Koza, she’s busy exploring the zoo. Cairo has a great treat that is not allowed to many dogs—her daily walks are filled with visits to elephants, gorillas and a score of other animals!

Even though Cairo and Koza will have to separate when Koza gets too big, there’s still a happy ending in store. Koza will eventually be paired with a female lion, forming his own pride in Lion Camp. Cairo has already charmed a human into waiting for her---a member of the Park’s Mammal Department staff—a warm and loving human family is ready to welcome her into their home!

Meanwhile, Cairo lives an enchanted existence…her story is one of the more remarkable legacies of Hurricane Katrina. From the devastation of New Orleans to her amazing life at the zoo, Cairo’s story gives proof to the truth that miracles do happen. And her miracle is shared in happiness and fun with the King of the Beasts…a lion.

Source – Zoological Society of San Diego

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