“When mom can’t take care of them, they need all the help they can get,” Cincinnati Zoo Executive Director Thane Maynard tells TODAY.com. “In essence, Blakely is a nursery worker, helping interact and play with baby animals. It’s cute and fun, and yet in terms of those babies growing up, that socialization is an important thing.”
Baby animals aren’t often separated from their mothers, but sometimes it is necessary for the baby’s survival. Often the problem is that the babies aren’t getting enough to eat. When that’s the case, Blakely has a unique method of feeding his new charges. Rather than waiting for a zookeeper to come around and feed the baby with a bottle, Blakely dips his snout into a bowl of milk and lets the baby animals lick the milk from his fur.
“We don’t pull animals from their moms unless there is a problem,” explains zookeeper Michelle Smith. “If they are doing good, we leave them be.”
“He teaches them things we humans can’t,” Smith adds of Blakely. “It’s animal language.”
Blakely may be famous for his nanny skills today, but like many extraordinary animals, he comes from humble beginnings. Employees at the Cincinnati Zoo looking for a gentle canine caretaker for the orphaned baby animals in their care decided to visit a local shelter. Once they found the then-8-month-old Blakely, they looked no further.
After some basic training, Blakely’s first baby was Savanna, a tiny cheetah. Savanna’s brother died and her mother stopped caring for her, so zookeepers pulled her and placed her in the nursery with Blakely. There, Blakely let her play, snuggle, and climb all over him. Thanks to Blakely’s help and friendship, Savanna became the healthy, happy adolescent cheetah she was meant to be.
“Having interaction with other animals can help quite a bit,” Maynard says. “He can help teach those animals to play or even hunt, and how to feed out of a bowl.”
When the babies are old enough to eat from a food bowl, Blakely teaches them with his patented “you snooze, you lose” method, Maynard explains.
“A lot of times it’s competition, because Blakely would run right over to the bowl, and the animals are just like people, thinking I better beat this dog to it,” she says.
Since Savanna, Blakely has cared for animals of many other species, including a skunk, a bat-eared fox, a wallaby, and even a warthog. His most recent ward, Santos, is a baby ocelot who recently graduated from the nursery to the zoo’s 30-year-old Cat Ambassador program, Yahoo! reports.
But Blakely’s time at the zoo isn’t all work and no play; when he’s not on baby animal duty, zookeepers take him on long walks through the zoo’s grounds. He also loves snuggling with humans in the office and meeting children while making his rounds.
“He loves kids,” Smith says of Blakely. “He has the biggest tail wag when he sees children.”
To learn more about Blakely and the Cincinnati Zoo, visit the zoo’s Facebook page today.