Young Cheetah Ambassador, Ruuxa, Takes to the Track at Shiley’s Cheetah Run

Animal ambassadors, cheetah Ruuxa and dog Raina, took a walk through the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, to the enjoyment of Park guests, before taking to the track to show their speed at Shiley’s Cheetah Run. While Raina, the female Rhodesian ridgeback, ran as fast as her legs would carry her, she couldn’t best the time of her cheetah pal, Ruuxa, as he did what cheetahs do best: run fast.

Ruuxa, one of the Park’s youngest cheetahs, made his debut at Shiley’s Cheetah Run recently. This is quite a feat for the energetic year-and-a-half-old cheetah, which at a young age was diagnosed with a growth abnormality in his forelegs. The growth plate in the ulna—the thinner and longer of two bones in the foreleg—stopped growing before the radius, causing a bowing of the limbs.

The Safari Park’s veterinarians determined Ruuxa needed surgery to correct the problem so he could lead a normal, active life. At four months of age, on Sept 3, 2014, Ruuxa underwent surgery at the Safari Park’s Harter Veterinary Medical Center—with his faithful dog companion, Raina, never far from his side. Ruuxa recovered quickly from his surgery. He returned to playing and physical activity much more quickly than expected.

“Given his early health issues, we didn’t know if Ruuxa would ever be able to run. We’re beyond thrilled he is now participating in Shiley’s Cheetah Run,” said Janet Rose-Hinostroza, animal training supervisor, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “Ruuxa, in Somali, means “spirit”—and Ruuxa has amazed all of us with his spirit and determination to overcome his health challenges and meet or surpass any goals we, as his trainers, set for him. And he did all of this with his faithful companion, Raina, by his side.”

Ruuxa and Raina were placed together at four and five weeks of age, respectively, to be raised as ambassador animals after the cheetah cub was rejected by his mother and had to be hand raised by keepers. The pair bonded quickly, and that bond remains incredibly strong. Raina provides Ruuxa the feeling of having a “sibling” from his earliest memories. She gives him the confidence to face situations in which he may feel uncomfortable. Raina’s body language communicates to Ruuxa that there is nothing to fear in new or public surroundings, which relaxes and calms him.

Visitors to the Safari Park may see Ruuxa and Raina with their trainers on a walk around the Safari Park, on a Behind-the-Scenes Cheetah & Friends Tour, or at Shiley’s Cheetah’s Run.