Cheetah-savvy dogs saving livestock in Botswana

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Human predator conflict and predators killing livestock is a reality in the wild and more rural parts of Africa. These days there are solutions that don’t involve killing the predators. Specially trained dogs can fulfill this niche as they become part of the herd and play a protective role.

There are plenty of success stories out there. Naomi Torumba now owns a house thanks to her Livestock Guarding Dog (LGD). Torumba is a subsistence farmer in Botswana who started farming goats in 2011. In the beginning she only had only 20 animals and losses due to predators prevented her from making a profit. In 2014 she made contact with Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB) to request an LGD.

Thanks to the dog, cheetah and other predators no longer attack her herd. Torumba’s flock is now at 53 goats and she is able to sell the excess animals. From the revenue gained from increasing goat numbers she was able to buy her family a house in Karakubis. Torumba’s success has inspired other livestock owners to seek help from Cheetah Conservation Botswana.

cheetah on anthill Botswana

Cheetah Conservation Botswana

Cheetah Conservation Botswana has been placing LGDs with farmers since 2013. To date they have placed 133 Tswana dogs.

“The aim is to find cost effective non-lethal solutions to human-wildlife conflict,” says Rebecca Klein, executive director of CCB. The biggest threat to cheetah is farmers retaliating to predation of livestock.

The majority of conflict with cheetahs occurs in rural areas. It is estimated that around 200 cheetahs are killed every year due to human-wildlife conflict.

“Considering there are only approximately 1700 cheetahs in Botswana that is an incredibly high number,” says Klein. “Our monitoring indicates that over half of the farmers that use LGDs no longer kill carnivores at all.” A recent study revealed that dogs can reduce livestock losses by 75%.

livestock guarding dog for cheetah conservation Botswana

Local Tswana dogs

The local Tswana dog from Botswana is a medium-sized canine with a short coat and a pointed snout. “Generally speaking they look somewhat like a kelpie,” says Klein.  The kelpie is a brown version of the Border collie and is an Australian sheep herding breed.

By comparing photographs of street dogs in other countries, it appears most street dogs or local breeds across the world look the same. Despite having evolved in totally different places in complete isolation from each other, most street dogs are medium-sized with a long muzzle and short coat, like the Tswana dog. These naturally-selected traits benefit the dog’s survival

Breeds of Livestock Guarding Dogs

The Anatolian shepherd is the most well-known protector of sheep and goats. It is a Turkish breed that is used by farmers in Namibia and South Africa. It can be an effective tool for commercial farmers who have the funds to invest in the animal as a large breed it has fairly high nutritional requirements in the developmental phases.

“However, we have found that the local Tswana breed is a perfect fit for our subsistence farmers as it is freely available, naturally hardy towards local diseases, tolerant to the extreme climate and can manage on the simple diet provided for most dogs in Botswana,” says Klein.

“Many dog breeds are able to guard livestock, so long as the dog is large enough to keep up with the herd,” explains Klein. It is crucial that the dog forms a strong bond with the herd and does not display behavioural problems, like attacking livestock or antelope,” says Klein.

Sterilized dogs perform better when protecting livestock, so all LGDs are spayed or neutered before they are placed with farmers experiencing conflict.

Livestock guarding dog botswana

Every dog has its day

Local mixed breeds are better adapted to local climate, parasites and diseases because they undergo incredibly strong natural selection as they generally do not have access to veterinary care.

Using local breeds to improve the adaptability of working breeds is an obvious step for NGOs operating with dogs in abnormal working conditions. To avoid disease, Akagera National Park has started crossing Belgium Malinois with local Rwandan breeds in the hopes that the puppies will have the intelligence of the Malinois and a natural immunity to a tsetse fly-transmitted disease.

“Our research has shown that when used in similar situations, the local mixed breed Tswana dogs are the most effective,” explains Klein. “They are easily accessible and cheaper to buy and maintain than other pure breeds.”

Sourcing and training Livestock Guarding Dogs

There is a ready supply of Tswana dogs in Botswana. “We source our dogs from local communities and animal welfare societies,” says Klein.

Puppies are introduced to their flock once they are six to eight weeks old, to ensure ample socialisation with the sheep and goats. By six months of age the dog should be with the herd all day, every day,” says Klein. Regular monitoring, access to veterinary care and ongoing training help ensure behavioural problems do not develop.

cheetah conservation botswana

How Livestock Guard Dogs work

Most carnivores rely on stealth when hunting. LGDs are able to detect carnivores and disrupt their hunt by barking and storming predators, alerting the herd. Once alerted goats and sheep group closer together making them easier to guard.

“Once the element of surprise is lost most carnivores give up the hunt without even coming into contact with the dogs,” says Klein. “They are an extremely effective tool in reducing the costly cycle of human wildlife conflict and have great potential in helping to conserve the cheetah and their Kalahari home.”

Written by Georgina Lockwood 

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