At the recent workshop on governance that took place at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) Centre, most of the participants were farmers who come from Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC) hotspots. Nadja le Roux, Community Development Manager at CCF, took the opportunity to give basic training on livestock management techniques and to introduce the farmers to the shepherd dogs, also known as guarding dogs.
The Anatolian Shepherd dog breed is originally from Turkey, and has been used for thousands of years to protect livestock from predators such as wolves and bears. The breed evolved over time to be able to travel great distances across the arid Anatolian Plateau region of Turkey and Asia Minor. They were deliberately chosen for this purpose because of their tolerance to a harsh climate and terrain, with very little rain, extreme heat in summer and cold in winter – an environment very similar to Namibia.
In 1994, CCF started the Livestock Guarding Dog Programme (LGDP) in an effort to address the human wildlife conflict that threatens the cheetah and to help livestock farmers find ways to co-exist with cheetahs and other predators.
The Anatolian Shepherd dogs, bred at the model farm at CCF Namibia, are raised with the herd instead of humans, so that they bond with the livestock, and thus assume the role of protectors. As soon as they are two months they are placed with the livestock to start their responsibility as guard dogs. Their natural instinct is to protect the flock. This, paired to the cheetah’s natural flight versus fight instinct, makes the dogs a good investment for farmers.
Upon spotting a predator, the dog places itself between the predator and its livestock ‘family’ and barks very loudly, scaring the big cats away. Farmers no longer need to kill cheetahs to protect their livestock, which is their livelihood. Apart from directly saving the cheetah from indiscriminate removal from the farmlands where they live, this programme has also helped to foster a goodwill relationship between the CCF and farmers, thus contributing to the cheetah's chances for survival.
The young pups are given for free or for a minimal fee to local farmers. Since the introduction of the programme, the CCF has placed over 450 livestock guarding dogs, with more and more puppies born every year. Most farmers with dogs from CCF reported dramatic reductions of livestock predation by about 80% to 100%. The organization has also helped launched similar programmes in Botswana, South Africa and Tanzania.
A similar scheme failed in Kunene when the programme suppliying the dogs and giving veterinary and feeding advice ended. The CCF has the advantage as it gives new-owner support, provides veterinary care and long-term monitoring, until guard dogs become an established farming practice in the area.
The CCF has shown that with the right support, dogs can help farmers and wildlife alike.