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South Africa: Dogs battle cheetahs

Anatolian sheepdogs protect livestock from wild cats. In return, farmers no longer hunt cheetahs.

On Knipe’s farm, Neeake was placed with the goat kids when he was a puppy and grew up next to them, developing a strong and loyal bond. Now he stays with the goats all day, keeping watch for intruders as they graze and sleeping with them in their corral at night, although in a dog house.

“He stays out with the goats. That’s his place,” says Knipe.

Knipe also keeps Rottweiler dogs as pets, but says that Neeake is different. Like a protective mother goat he is constantly vigilant and on the lookout for predators, and not easily distracted. “He’s not like a normal house dog,” says Knipe.

The Cheetah Outreach program tells of the amazing feats of Anatolians in protecting their livestock from cheetahs and other predators.

A young dog named Crickey fought off a leopard to save his herd. He was badly injured, and after a visit to the vet, was taken into the farmhouse to recover. But Crickey had other ideas, and that night he escaped from the house and walked 9 miles to return to his herd. Another Anatolian shepherd, Uthaya, was seen gently dragging an old and sickly ewe in his herd into the shade on a hot day.

Cyril Stannard, coordinator for the Anatolian shepherd project, says that at first some farmers were skeptical of the program. “It was a new concept and so we had to prove it,” he says. “Luckily the dogs we have placed have proved themselves.”

The dogs have reduced livestock losses by 95 to 100 percent, according to Stannard. They mostly guard sheep and goats, but some have been trained to protect cattle. The farmers say that as long as they’re not losing livestock to cheetahs, they aren’t tempted to hunt the wild cats. “The farmers have become tolerant,” Stannard says.

Stannard says that 76 dogs have been placed since 2005 in the three areas where the program is active in South Africa, along the borders with Botswana and Zimbabwe. It’s an area he describes as “the last frontier for free-ranging cheetahs” in South Africa.

Cheetahs are the fastest animal in the world, hitting speeds of up to 70 miles per hour in explosive but short bursts of energy. Cheetah cub mortality is as high as 90 percent, largely due to attacks by predators such as lions.

Their habitat has been dramatically reduced in the past 100 years, as it has for all other wild animals in Africa. But unlike other animals, cheetahs don’t do very well on nature reserves.

While they are keen hunters, they are poor fighters because of their small jaws and teeth, and they lose much of their prey to more aggressive animals such as hyenas and lions. Cheetahs tend to run away rather than fight.

In Swaziland, which is bordered on three sides by South Africa, a man plead guilty in court recently for shooting and then eating a cheetah that had killed 10 of his 14 goats, according to the Times of Swaziland.

In Knipe’s area, the view towards cheetahs is changing. With the Anatolian shepherd dogs came education programs for farm staff, and awareness about cheetahs has spread out into the community. For example, people in the area who were once fearful of cheetahs are learning that the animals rarely attack humans.

Knipe concluded, “the farmers are becoming cheetah-friendly.”