Article Summary of Twenty-five Years of Livestock Guarding Dog Use Across Namibian Farmlands
The cheetah is Africa’s most endangered big cat, with fewer than 7,500 individuals remaining in just 9% of its historic range, with over 75% of the cheetah population residing outside of protective areas. The cheetah survival is threatened by habitat loss, illegal wildlife trade and direct persecution by farmers. Thus, improving human-cheetah coexistence is critical for the conservation of cheetahs.
Since 1994, the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) has implemented a Livestock Guarding Dog program to mitigate human-cheetah conflict resulting from livestock depredation. Livestock losses have significant economic impacts on local farmers and may result in preventive and retaliatory carnivore killings. Providing sustainable solutions to protect livestock herds from depredation is therefore key to promote coexistence.
The CCF Livestock Guarding Dog program is centered around the breeding and placement of Anatolian shepherds and Kangal dogs, ancient dog breeds that have guarded livestock for thousands of years. Between 1994 and 2018, 634 dogs were placed with Namibian farmers and close monitoring and routine follow-up visits by CCF staff offered valuable insights into the effectiveness of livestock guarding dogs and the perceptions of their owners.
The results of this long-term initiative were recently published in the Journal of Vertebrate Biology. Since the start of the program, the effectiveness of livestock guarding dogs remained high, with reductions in livestock losses reported by 91% of farmers. Moreover, farmers reduced carnivore killings after the placement of a livestock guarding dog, which suggests a move towards an improved perception of wildlife conservation. The study also identified important points of attention, such as various behavioral issues, causes of early deaths and unwanted ecological impacts, that need further investigation for the optimization of livestock guarding dog efficiency and management.
CCF has shown that it is essential to follow each dog throughout its life. Each dog is not only of extraordinary value to Namibian farmers, but they also provide CCF with useful insights into what makes an effective livestock guarding dog and how they facilitate a cheetah-friendly environment. As the CCF Livestock Guarding Dog program continues to expand, maintaining efforts like these will remain key to expanding our understanding of current issues and available opportunities, so that cheetah conservation efforts can be placed where they will have the greatest impact.