Origianlly publish Ensia Magazine – October 11, 2017 – see full story
Writer and featured photo: Isabelle Groc, @isabellegroc – Freelance writer and photographer
These dogs live to work — and threatened animals live because they do
Around the world, canine conservationists are helping humans and wildlife co-exist.
October 11, 2017 — It is still cool in the morning as Spots gets ready to start work. Calm and confident, the imposing 10-year old light brown Kangal is leading a herd of goats into a pasture. “He is always excited to go out with the goats,” says Tyapa Toivo, small livestock manager at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF).
In this part of north-central Namibia, the goats graze every day on the same land where leopards, cheetahs and jackals also live. But the goats are safe with Spots. He watches over them intensely, and if a predator approaches, he barks loudly and places himself between the herd and the threatening animal. This is usually sufficient to scare the predator away. “Our goats go out every day and we have cheetah roaming around, but I have never experienced losses from a cheetah,” says Toivo. “They know that this herd of goats is with a dog, so they don’t bother coming any closer.”
Spots is a livestock guard dog, and like others around the world, his job is to protect domestic animals against native predators — and so reduce humans’ perceived need to kill the predators. It’s just one way in which dogs have been enlisted to help protect threatened and endangered species around the world.
Cheetahs, the fastest land animals on earth, are struggling in the race against extinction. Once found throughout Africa and in much of Asia and numbering around 100,000 animals in 1900, cheetahs are now persisting in only 9 percent of their historic range. The global population is now estimated at about 7,100 animals. Namibia is part of the home range of the world’s largest subpopulation, numbering around 3,940.
Due to conflicts with more powerful predators such as lions and hyenas, which kill cheetahs’ cubs and steal their prey, most cheetahs live outside protected reserves and parks, including on farmland. There they face other dangers. Because they live close to humans raising cows, sheep and goats, cheetahs are often held responsible for livestock losses, and Namibian farmers have felt they had no other option but to kill the big cats to protect their herd. It is estimated that between 1980 and 1990 nearly 10,000 cheetahs were lost that way, according to CCF. Convinced that farmers and predators could co-exist, CCF turned to man’s best friend to reduce conflicts between farmers and big cats.
Ensia is an independent, nonprofit magazine presenting new perspectives on environmental challenges and solutions to a global audience. The magazine covers a broad spectrum of issues and ideas at the crossroads of different sectors, disciplines, ideologies and geographies.
Ensia’s mission is to share stories and ignite conversations that motivate and empower people to create a more sustainable future.
Ensia is published with support from the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, major foundations and private individuals. In 2017 Ensia became a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News — a collective of over 100 nonprofit newsrooms dedicated to serving the public interest.