You’ve heard of seeing eye dogs, doggie therapists, and search & rescue dogs. But have you heard of guard dogs that are helping cheetahs?
The Livestock Guarding Dog (LSGD) program started by the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia is one of the most successful programs implemented to help farmers guard their livestock from cheetahs—and help save the lives of cheetahs in the process.
The world’s fastest land animal, the cheetah, is the most endangered cat in Africa. One of the biggest threats to the cheetah’s survival is its conflict with livestock farmers. The drought in the 1980s killed the cheetah’s favorite prey, gazelles and impalas. Desperate for food, cheetahs were forced to take livestock, and became the farmers’ most hated animal. Farmers killed cheetahs to protect their livelihoods.
In 1994, Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, started the Livestock Guarding Dog program to help the wild cheetah populations. Dr. Marker’s research indicated that cheetahs didn’t actually prefer domesticated livestock when natural prey was available, which meant that livestock could be kept safe with proper measures. Thus came the idea to use trained dogs to act as watchdogs over the flock.
For the LSGD program, CCF bred Turkish Anatolian Shepherd dogs that were donated to the organization by Louise Emmanuel of Birinci Anatolians and the Livestock Guarding Dog Association in USA. Large and imposing, Anatolian Shepherd dogs had been guarding flock in Turkey for centuries. They are capable of adapting to hot climates and traveling for long distances, both qualities that came in handy in Namibia. In the past two years, the livestock guarding program added Kengal dogs, also of Turkish roots, to the program. Both Anatolian Shepherds and Kengal dogs are able to work in large open areas, sometimes without any human presence. Their strong eyesight, sharp hearing and dedication to the herd makes them exceptional guarding dogs.
Photo courtesy of Cheetah Conservation Fund
Since the program began, CCF has placed 400 guard dogs with farmers. CCF currently has 150 dogs working with farmers. CCF carefully breeds the dogs, and the puppies are born in small stock yards at CCF which also includes a working farm with goats and sheep. The pups grow up with the farm animals and form a bond. The dogs’ mothers teach them when to bark at the sight of danger, which becomes helpful in their future careers as guard dogs. The dog’s barking scares away predators like the cheetah. Sometimes, the dogs stand ground and intimidate predators. They even attack when necessary to protect livestock.
The staff at CCF cares for the puppies until the age of eight weeks. Then, they are neutered/spayed and placed with a participating farmer. Each farmer who receives a puppy from CCF is required to go through a one day mandatory puppy information day that covers care and training of livestock guarding dogs and predator friendly livestock management. While it costs a lot more to breed and care for these puppies,CCF only charges a small fraction to farmers (around N$1000 or $125). This fee covers the costs of the vet prior to the farmers taking charge.
Since the dogs are placed at such a young age, they bond quickly with the farmers and the livestock. They go out with the herder and the livestock right away for short periods of the day. The time spent with the livestock increases over the coming months. The canines strongly bond with the animals and naturally become protective of the herd.
Human interactions are kept to a minimum so the canines are not distracted from the duties at hand, but the dogs are well taken care of and are carefully supervised and trained to avoid the dangers of the African bush including snakes and other predators. Farmers are taught how to check their guard dogs for ticks, illness, and injury each day. A healthy dog means a strong and imposing barrier against the cheetahs that come to feed on the livestock.
When the working dogs are settled in their new homes, CCF checks on their welfare every few months for the first year and annually after that, and provides veterinary supplies for minor injuries, vaccinations, and treatment for fleas, ticks and worms as needed. Farmers also answer questionnaires about their dogs’ performance and health. All this is done to ensure that the dogs CCF places are healthy and functioning well in their new homes.
Dogs that are in poor health or not performing well in their new jobs, are removed and placed with another farm where there might be a better fit. If a dog is unable to continue working as a guarding dog, a loving home is found for the dog as a companion animal.
Since the program started, livestock losses due to predation have dropped by up to 80 percent. More landowners are choosing alternatives like guarding dogs rather than killing cheetahs that venture onto their lands. In the past, there were more than 800 to 900 cheetahs killed annually, but that number has been reduced significantly, thanks to the hard work of dogs.
Livestock Guarding Dog program costs CCF $40,000 a year to breed, care for the dogs, educate the farmers, and make follow up visits. You can help LSGD by making a donation or sponsoring one of the guarding dogs. To learn more, please visit: Cheetah Conservation Fund
Founder and Executive Director of Cheetah Conservation Fund, Dr. Laurie Marker with CCF’s two ambassadors – Koya, Anatolian Shepherd and Chewbaaka, an orphaned cheetah. The trio were a team for a decade. The team went to meet farmers and Namibian students and taught them about the Livestock Gaurding Dog Program.