Fierce Dogs Protect Livestock, Cheetahs In Africa

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Marker interviewed farmers about their work and problems encountered with predators in order to develop a program around the needs of the community. "They liked my approach—I was not confrontational," she said. "I was interested in them as farmers."

Some farmers Marker spoke with used herding dogs. But when the dogs saw danger, they instinctively tried to move the animals to safety, triggering the cheetah's natural instinct to stalk and chase. Ironically the dogs were causing more sheep and goats to be killed as a result.

Marker set out to find another type of dog that would protect rather than herd the animals. During her research, she came across the Anatolian shepherd, a breed used by Turkish shepherds for thousand of years as the first line of defense against predators.

The canine's formidable height (they stand 27 to 29 inches/69 to 74 centimeters tall) can help intimidate predators. The dogs live with their flocks and are independent thinkers, needing little direction to do their jobs. Their short coats are also well suited to Namibia's hot climate.

With their instinctive guarding ability, Anatolia shepherds have successfully warded off more than cheetahs on Namibian farms—jackals, caracal lynx, leopards, and baboons have been turned away.

The Anatolians are bred at CCF's headquarters. About 25 are placed on farms each year. There is no fee to obtain a dog. However, commercial farmers are asked for a U.S. $100 donation to cover the cost of vaccinations and neutering or spaying.

Once a dog is placed, CCF staff members contact its new owner every month for half a year to answer questions and offer advice. After that, regular contact is made with the owner throughout the dog's life.

Since the program started, Marker said most participating farmers have reported zero loss of livestock and high satisfaction with their dogs' performance.

Currently the program has a waiting list of more than 50 farmers. In an e-mail interview, Hannes de Haast, a sheep and cattle rancher who joined the program almost three years ago, says his Anatolian is an invaluable asset.

"I don't want to think what could have happened without her on the farm," de Haast said. He notes that every year disease, accidents, and predators (principally hyenas and cheetahs) can cull three to four out of every hundred animals on farms that raise small livestock, like sheep or goats.

De Haast said that in course of 15 years of farming, his only loss of livestock to cheetah predation were six sheep killed in a single day nearly a decade ago. However, de Haast, said he finds cheetah tracks on his land five or six times a year.

"While farming is not a real moneymaker, losses of livestock due to predators is quite an emotional and annoying thing for a farmer," he said. "It can easily drive him to put poison in a carcass to kill the predator."

De Haast admits it's difficult for farmers to change their attitudes and practices. When livestock is killed, it causes financial hardships. "I think that conservation bodies can do a lot to help change the attitude of farmers by providing compensation in case of losses," he said.

CCF does not offer such financial reimbursement. However, the organization is considering a program that would certify meat as "predator friendly." Designated meat would then be sold for a premium price, helping increase the farmer's bottom line.

Within the last few years, de Haast said he has noticed a "sharp increase" in the local cheetah population.

Marker said other farmers have too, and some of them are nervous. "We have more work to do," Marker concedes. "As farmers see more cheetahs, they think that they might have more problems. So we spend our time in a vicious circle of hand-holding and educating."

Meanwhile Marker looks to the future, saying she hopes younger generations will peacefully coexist with cheetahs through adaptive livestock- and wildlife-management practices.

Word about the Livestock Guarding Dog Program has spread. Researchers working to save wolves in United States, snow leopards in Nepal, jaguars in Brazil, and European lynx in Switzerland, have expressed interest in using Anatolians as a conservation tool, Marker said.

"This is an art along with a science," Marker said of saving the wild cheetah. "Today the future of the cheetah is in human hands."

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