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A nursery dog is acting as a surrogate parent to five cheetah cubs who were born prematurely at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Blakely, an Australian shepherd, has been providing snuggling, comfort and a warm body to climb for the cubs, whose mother passed away.

Zoo officials thought mother cheetah Willow would make a recovery after the difficult C-section birth on March 8, but she remained lethargic and lost her appetite over the weekend.

"Cheetahs are a fragile species and this difficult birth proved to be too much for her to pull through," said Zoo Director Thane Maynard. "Willow was able to contribute to the survival of her species by producing five cheetah cubs. Without the C-section, we likely would have lost both the mom and the cubs."

The cubs have been getting round-the-clock critical care and are doing much better, opening their eyes and eating better in recent days.

As the cubs grow up, Blakely will act as a role model for the cheetahs, teaching them to climb and interact with each other.

Blakely has been nanny to several zoo babies in the past, including warthogs, aardvarks and wallabies.

According to the zoo, cheetahs are endangered, and their population worldwide has shrunk from about 100,000 in 1900 to an estimated 9,000 to 12,000 today.

Watch more above.

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