How man’s best friend is saving endangered big cat
December 26, 2008
By protecting livestock, the Kangal dog helps the cheetah to survive as farmers have no reason to kill the big cat
Lewis Smith, Environment Reporter
A ferocious dog is helping to save a big cat from extinction by doing what comes naturally – chasing it.
Kangal Anatolian shepherd dogs are known for their willingness to defend their territory to the death and have been bred to stop cheetahs from taking livestock.
While depriving the cheetahs of occasional meals, the dogs have been doing them a good turn because, with the livestock left in peace, farmers have little reason to persecute the big cat.
Almost 300 Kangals have been given to farmers in Namibia since 1994 by the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) and the scheme has proved so successful that it has been extended to Kenya. Masai tribesmen in a village outside the Masai Mara in Kenya have taken delivery of their first Kangal, a male, and it is expected to reduce their livestock losses to predators dramatically.
In Namibia the dogs, which originate from Turkey and for 6,000 years have helped to protect villagers and their livestock from wolves, have been sent to live at 275 farms in the areas where livestock most frequently fall prey to cheetahs.
During the past 14 years the number of cheetahs killed by farmers is calculated to have fallen from 19 per farmer annually to 2.4. Livestock losses have been cut significantly at more than 80 per cent of the farms where the dogs have been adopted. Of the cats that are still killed by farmers the great majority are attributed to specific attacks on livestock instead, as was the case previously, of being tracked and slaughtered whenever they came close to a farm.
Laurie Marker, who founded the CCF and runs the Kangal project, said of the dogs: “They are man’s best friend and they are the cheetah’s best friend.”
Kangals are allowed to roam freely around the farms where they are sent and will mark out a wide territory. Whenever animals perceived as a threat come close, the Kangals raise the alarm by barking and, if that is not enough, by challenging the interlopers. Confrontations can be deadly but the dogs will risk their lives to protect the animals and their owners.
Cheetahs are easily chased off but other animals are harder to scare, especially leopards and troops of baboons. “We have amazing stories about the dogs from the farmers protecting and living against fights with troops of baboons and chasing off leopards – with one fighting a leopard to its death,” Dr Marker said.
“There have been lots of stories of them chasing away cheetahs, jackals and caracal. Several dogs carry scars from some of these fights and yet they keep on working. They are amazing, strong and tough.” Since 1991 the long-term decline in cheetah numbers in Namibia has been reversed and the estimated population has risen from 2,000 to more than 3,000.
Much of the improvement has been attributed to the Kangals, along with other projects such as teaching farmers how to avoid coming into conflict with the big cats.
Namibia was selected for the initial programme because it has the highest number of cheetahs among the 26 countries in Africa where the predator can be found. Dr Marker hopes that Kangals can be sent eventually to many more countries to protect the cat.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org