Running fast towards extinction largely due to human wildlife conflict is our planet’s cheetah population. Could guard dogs be a solution to protect them?
According to Cheetah Outreach, currently there are only approximately 7,500 cheetahs left in Africa, compared to the 100,000 world-wide at the turn of the century 1. Of these, South Africa holds approximately 850 cheetahs: 350 in conservation areas and 500 free-roaming in the Limpopo, North West and Northern Cape Provinces.
One of the main reasons for the cheetah’s declining numbers is due to habitat loss throughout Africa. In addition, past capture of wild cheetah has not aided this problem since cheetahs do not breed well in captivity plus removal of the cheetahs reduces genetic diversity in the wild, thus decreasing the viability of new offspring.
Increases in human population has led to loss of habitat, prey, and increasing conflict with man. Because the cheetah is smaller and more fragile than other big cats, it faces stiff competition from other predators. As a result, it tends to not do well in reserves with large lion and hyena populations. As a result, over 90% of cheetahs live outside protected areas where they come into conflict with farmers. During the 1980’s, livestock and game farmers removed nearly 10,000 cheetahs from Namibia, drastically reducing numbers 2. As a result, conservation organizations, such as the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), came into existence to help farmers understand the value of the cheetah to the ecosystem, the negative effect traps can have on small wildlife, and to develop and implement predator-friendly non-lethal livestock management techniques. Once of these projects is the Livestock Guarding Dog Program 2.
This program, first started by CCF in 1994, breeds Turkish Anatolian Shepherd dogs and places them on South African farms to guard livestock in an effort to reduce conflict between farmers and predators. These dogs, used in Turkey to protect sheep and goats against wolf and bear attacks for thousands of years, are adopted by participating farmers, where they and their new owners are trained to protect the livestock. The program has since been expanded by De Wildt’s Wild Cheetah Management Project (WCMP) and Cheetah Outreach in 2005.
Since the program’s implementation, Anatolian guard dogs have been placed on farms in Limpopo and North West Provinces, and have reduced livestock losses from 95 to 100% 1,2. These large breed dogs are mostly used to guard sheep and goats, but some have been used to guard cattle and wildlife. This program has been widely utilized and has had a great effect in reducing the numbers of farmers who would instead trap or kill cheetahs, to the point that there is a 2 year waiting list to adopt one of these dogs through CCF and other organizations have now started breeding programs and financial support, to meet the increased desire for these guard dogs 2.