The goats and the herdsmen are serenely unaware of the fanged predator slinking ever closer to them. When the cheetah is close enough—maybe 50 yards from his prey—he will suddenly break cover, make a lethal dash at speeds that approach 70 mph, and sink his teeth into the neck of his chosen victim. It will all be over in seconds: one goat dead, the rest of the herd scattered in terror.
But it’s not going to happen this time. The herdsman isn’t the only one guarding the goats. There’s also an Anatolian Shepherd dog, more than two feet tall and afraid of nothing. His keen nose gets a sudden whiff of cheetah; he braces himself on all four paws, and begins barking fiercely. Spooked, the cheetah turns and runs. Breakfast will have to wait.
Since 1994, the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) has been involved in an innovative project called the Livestock Guardian Program, which has been saving the lives of cheetahs in both Namibia and South Africa. Working with farmers and their livestock, the program is one of several non-lethal predator management strategies that the CCF has developed. In Namibia and South Africa, the cheetah is a protected species, however, if it comes into contact with humans or livestock, the farmer is allowed to “remove” the animal. Trapping and hunting of cheetahs that are suspected of being a threat to livestock is legal. Sometimes cheetahs who are just passing through to get to another territory are caught in the crossfire. The CCF’s goal is to help farmers and cheetahs co-exist.
Worldwide there are only approximately 30,000 cheetahs left in the wild. 30% of those cheetahs live in Namibia, the largest remaining population in the world. Almost 95% of these cats live on commercial or communal livestock farmland due to the pressure from other predators in the reserves and protected areas. The removal of lions and leopards from these farmlands, combined with an abundance of natural prey and water sources, have opened up a niche for the cheetah and allowed it to thrive in these areas.
In the 1980’s, Namibia suffered a drought. The cheetah’s natural prey base comprised of antelope and other small mammals moved off to greener pastures, died, or were killed in order to keep the grasslands and water sources for the livestock. With little or no natural prey to hunt, the cheetahs were forced to go after the livestock.
Enter the Anatolian Shepherd and the Kangal Dog. The Anatolian Shepherd is a guard dog of ancient lineage and thought to have evolved from the large hunting dogs of ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran). The environment in these places is very similar to that of Namibia, with cold winters and hot, dry summers. The Kangal dog’s lineage is related to the ancient mastiff type dogs from the Sivas/Kangal region of Turkey. The relative isolation of the area has kept this breed relatively free of cross breeding, and has resulted in a natural breed of incredible uniformity in temperament, appearance and behavior. Both breeds are large dogs with the males weighing in at up to 150lbs.
By capitalizing on the special characteristics of these breeds of dogs, the CCF was able to put its Livestock Guardian Dog program into effect. In Turkey, these dogs have historically been used to protect the livestock from wolves and bears. It is not in their nature to chase the predator or attack it, but rather to face it down, while barking to alert its master. The dog’s natural instincts to protect the flock along with the cheetah’s natural flight vs. fight instinct made these dogs the ideal choice.
The livestock-guarding dog is weaned from its mother at 8 weeks of age, and sent to live with the herd. The puppy eats, sleeps and travels with its new family. It was found that this was the age where the puppy can successfully bond with the livestock, and thus assume the role of protector. The CCF’s livestock guarding dogs have defended their herds against baboons, jackals, caracals cheetahs, leopards and even humans. The dog is not trained to chase or attack, but rather, its job is to posture and bark to scare the attacker away. Occasionally if the dog is forced to physically defend its herd, its size and strength make it a formidable opponent.
The dogs used in CCF’s program are all carefully bred at CCF’s research and education center in Namibia. The CCF keeps a registry to track the breeding histories of each dog and document the placement and work of the dogs. Currently about 150 CCF dogs are protecting herds on Namibian farms. If you are interested in learning more about the CCF Guardian Protection program, you can do so at http://www.cheetah.org.