Common sense and studies say protecting cheetahs in the wild is the best conservation method for this species #podcast #NikelaAfrica
“Hmm! Are they good guys?”
This is a question I always ask before we visit and meet with folks doing wildlife conservation. Now you’d think everyone was on the same page! But not so. That’s why its refreshing to visit a place like the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
Listen or read about our visit to the Cheetah Conservation Fund and how they save Cheetahs in the Wild.
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Protecting Cheetahs in the Wild
It’s a 44 kilometer dusty drive from Otjiwanrogo, Namibia to the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Along the way we see Warthog families foraging, some scamper off with tails straight up, while others stay on their knees munching away at dry patches of grass. Below a huge Social Weaver nest, in one of the few large trees on the roadside, a Tawny Eagle scans the parched landscape from his shady perch. Smart bird!
Job (like in the Bible) is our personal guide. He shows us an introductory video, we ask a few questions, then we meander through the Cheetah Conservation Fund compound. It is your typical hot Namibia day. Supposedly it is much drier than normal and local wildlife, and livestock, are suffering.
At first we find the Cheetahs languishing in the shade way at the far end of their large enclosures, however as we talk they come in closer as it is almost feeding time. Like most animals, us humans included, they’re creatures of habit.
The 34 resident cheetah, all orphans, are fed daily, except every seventh day. In the wilds Cheetahs don’t feed every day, actually they hunt only every few days. The three Cheetahs in the enclosure by us are waiting expectantly. Two are walking the fence-line while the third lies in the shade watching. They look robust and healthy.
Before I even ask, Job starts talking about captive breeding. They don’t breed animals here…well, not Cheetah at least. They do breed dogs, the Anatolian guard dog, native to Turkey.
At the Cheetah Conservation Fund, founded in 1990 by Dr. Laurie Maker, they focus on protecting cheetah who live on farmland or conservancies by working together with farmers to use guard dogs. Supposedly these dogs are instinctive guard dogs. They protect whatever they are socialized with, in this case the pups are in large pens with goats, and distanced from human contact as much as possible. These dogs are raised as working dogs, not pets, but dogs that are to spend their entire life with livestock. In Namibia that is primarily with goats and sheep.
Job walks us over to the other side of the compound to see the dogs. On our left is a large dog run with a small brick hut. A male and female are the current residence. The female is in heat. She lies asleep inside while the male is stretched out in the shade against the outside wall, not too far from the door way.
Across from them are numerous similar dog runs housing young dogs and goats. All are languishing in the shade trying to keep cool in the Namibia heat. The pups to our left are the size of Beagles (dog) and Job tells us they are only a month old! By three months they are ready to be placed with farmers who pay a nominal fee for a pup.
The farmers are instructed as to the dog’s care. They are not allowed to socialize with the family and must live with the goats day and night. Knowing that feeding such a large dog could present a challenge I ask Job. He says, that it is. Farmers are told not to feed the dog raw meat so that they don’t acquire a taste for it. They are encouraged to feed them dry dog food. Understanding that this is a costly proposition for most farmers they are shown that if a dog keeps one or two sheep or goats from falling prey to Cheetah every year they can easily afford the dog food.
Since 2006, 600 of these dogs have been placed with farmers in Namibia. Reportedly the Cheetah population since the inception of this project has doubled on the farmlands and conservancies. This is good news for the Cheetah.
Cheetahs were once found across Africa, from the Middle East to Asia and even in India. However today they populations are limited to parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Only about 5% of the Cheetahs live in National Reserves or Parks. Because predators like Lion and Leopard not only compete for prey but actually prey on Cheetah cubs. Lions, Leopards and even Hyena are also known to steal the Cheetah’s kill while she is recovering from the chase. Because she exerts such tremendous effort running so fast her system requires a cool down period before eating. Similar to a human running the 100 meter dash I would imagine.
The majority of todays’ 10,000 remaining Cheetah call dwindling wild places and farmland their home. Needless to say going after sheep or goats who gather in herds and don’t run very fast is easy dinner, especially for the mother with cubs she is trying to keep close. However, probably for most Cheetah, because although the fastest animal on the planet, they’re not very skilled hunters.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund also places camera traps at designated waterholes in Namibia to ascertain the prey populations. After all, how can Cheetah and other predators be expected to keep away from livestock if there is an insufficient food supply.
Part of the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s holistic approach to protecting Cheetahs in the wild is to teach farmers and all people that the natural habitat of wild animals is shrinking and that for wild species to survive humans must learn to live together with wildlife, both prey and predator.