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Livestock Guarding Dogs in Southern Africa

dogsGiven the number of comments about my blog on the effectiveness of guard dogs in protecting livestock, I asked Jane Horgan, NGS Big Cats Initiative grantee to respond.  Here’s what Jane has written.

Stuart Pimm

Jane Horgan:

Thank you all for your comments. This author is referring to programs run by NGOs throughout southern Africa as well as popular articles and reports by individuals who have implemented livestock guarding dogs — LSGDs — on their own.

My opinion is that the press and popular articles have been quick to praise the successes of Anatolian Shepherds while producers and breeders have seemed reluctant to admit to their short fallings in costs, health problems and behavioural problems. It is true that the Cheetah Outreach Anatolian program that Nikki’s study is based on (and that I’m assuming Deborah is referring to) has been very successful at placing Anatolians on farms in South Africa. There is no doubt that these dogs have been very effective at reducing livestock losses to predators. Their success is bolstered by the placement of healthy puppies from good breeding stock and the fact that LSGD experts visit the placed dogs as frequently as monthly to correct behavioural and health problems.

At a cost to Cheetah Outreach of US$2,780 per year, per dog (Rust et al., 2013), this kind of intervention is admirable, but not practical nor sustainable for long-term implementation throughout poor communities of Africa. We are by no means saying that Anatolians cannot be good livestock guardians, just that they have limitations that are not often publicised and should be considered in certain contexts, such as the hotter, more arid climates of the Kalahari in Botswana, or on farmlands that cannot afford the maintenance costs of these large breeds.

Furthermore, behavioural problems in Anatolians (cited in Coppinger et al., 1988; Green & Woodruff, 1988; Green & Woodruff, 1990; Potgieter, 2011; Potgieter et al., 2013 and even mentioned in Rust et al., (2013) indicates that they may require more intensive and longer training periods than other breeds and therefore may not be suitable for farmers that do not have the skills themselves or the access to dog trainers to assist with the necessary training.

They can also have shorter lifespans than mixed breed dogs (mixed breeds usually have longer lifespans thanks to hybrid vigour). For example, the average lifespan of Anatolians in CCF’s study was only 4 years (Marker et al., 2005). When the training phase for Anatolians is suspected to be 2-3 years (Potgieter, 2011), this makes for intensive and almost continuous training/replacement cycle – an investment that is not always practical for farm owners.

Although the programs at Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia and Cheetah Outreach in South Africa have produced some good results and have published papers detailing the work of Anatolians as livestock guardians (and similar breeds like Kangals), they have not investigated the ability of any other breeds. This study cited in this article by Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB) surveyed a large sample of LSGDs in Botswana and is the first of its kind in the region to test different breeds against each other.

Unpublished data from this study has shown that local mixed breed dogs are performing better than Anatolians in a variety of areas. This information is especially important to distribute as previous scientific papers from the region have made unsubstantiated claims that local breeds are unable to guard livestock (Marker-Kraus, 1996; Rust & Marker, 2013), unfairly branding them with a poor reputation. This led to many farmers not using LSGDs at all just because they couldn’t access or afford Anatolians, thinking that they were the only breed that could effectively guard livestock – leaving their livestock vulnerable to predation.

Data from CCB’s study confirmed the anecdotal evidence we had from Botswana that local mixed breed dogs were performing well as LSGDs and that Anatolians were not performing as well as had been reported in SA and Namibia. For example, Anatolians in Botswana would leave their herds in the heat of the day to seek shelter in the shade of trees or at homesteads. More recent data from CCF’s LSGD study (see Potgieter et al., 2013) seems to show similar findings (18% of their Anatolians stayed at home rather than running with the herd). It is unclear whether or not this is due to the heat or mere laziness.

The most exciting thing about this article is the fact that we have discovered that local, mixed-breed livestock guarding dogs in Botswana are easier and cheaper to obtain, train, and feed and can be distributed and used by low income farmers with little to no intervention from outside NGOs and with maximum possible profit margins for farmers.

In reality on the ground, this is a much more practical and sustainable predator-farmer conflict mitigation solution than the placement programs of purebred imported dogs supported by donated food. It is especially exciting as its one that can be adopted in any remote, poor farming community throughout southern Africa. If you want to apply the general concept of using local dogs (cheaper, easier to obtain and hardy) then this concept could have substantial ramifications for poor farming communities suffering from livestock predation the world over. Not only will this improve the productivity of farmers and henceforth be instrumental in poverty eradication, but also it will decrease the amount of retaliation killings of predators that occurs on livestock farmlands. This is surely something that we should be further investigating and celebrating.

References

Coppinger, R., Coppinger, L., Laneloh, G., Gettler, L., Lorenz, J., 1988, A decade of the Use of Livestock Guarding Dogs, Proceedings of the Thirteenth Vertebrate Pest Conference.

Green and Woodruff, 1988, Breed comparisons and characteristics of use of livestock guarding dogs, Journal of Range management, 41: 249-251

Green, J.S., Woodruff, R.A., 1990. ADC guarding dog program update: a focus on managing dogs. In: (Eds.) Davis, L.R., Marsh, R.E., Proceedings of the Fourteenth Vertebrate Pest Conference. University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska. pp233-236.

Marker, L.L., Dickman, A.J., MacDonald, D.W., 2005, Survivorship and Causes of Mortality of Livestock Guarding Dogs on Namibian Ranches, Rangeland Ecology and Management 58 (4): 337-343.

Marker-Kraus, L., Kraus, D., Barnett, D., Hurlbut, S., 1996, Cheetah survival on Namibian farmlands, Cheetah Conservation Fund, Windhoek, Namibia

Potgieter, G., 2011. The Effectiveness of livestock guarding dogs for livestock production and conservation in Namibia. Masters Thesis, Nelson Mandela University, South Africa.

Potgieter, G., Marker, L.L., Avenant, N.L., Kerley, G.I.H., 2013. Why Namibian farmers are satisfied with the performance of their livestock guarding dogs. Human dimensions of Wildlife 18; 403-415.

Rust, N.A., Whitehouse-Tedd, K.M., MacMillan, D.C., 2013. Perceived efficacy of livestock-guarding dogs in South Africa: Implications for cheetah conservation. Wildlife Society Bulletin 37 (4): 690-697.

Rust, N.A., Marker, L.L., 2013. Cost of carnivore coexistence on communal and resettled land in Namibia. Environmental Conservation online article doi: 10.1017/S037682913000180.