May 27, 2019
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Botswana, where man's best friend is helping to protect local cheetahs from extinction

By Oliver Matthews

Harare, May 16 (efe-epa).- Dogs are well known for their love of chasing cats and in Botswana man's best friend is being put to good use scaring off cheetahs to protect the 1,700 left in the southern African nation.

Cheetahs are facing extinction and in Botswana are killed by farmers protecting their livestock.

For this reason, Cheetah Conservation Botswana had the idea of deploying trained dogs to protect herds of domestic goats by chasing off the world's fast land animal, which often sees livestock as an easy meal.

"The puppy is placed with the herd at around six or eight weeks of age and grows up with the livestock, thinking that it is a goat and protecting the herd," Jane Horgan, engagement and awareness coordinator with CCB in the western town of Ghanzi, told Efe.

“The dogs are able to detect that the cheetah is close by and will disrupt its hunting pattern by barking and sometimes chasing the cheetah off – warning the herd of a cheetah’s approach while herding the livestock into a group to keep them safer and easier to guard.”

Known as a Tswana, this vivacious southern African dog breed, which is usually small and brown, is well-adapted to the conditions in of the savannah grasslands where the cheetah is found.

With an average top speed of around 115kph (71mph) and an ability to accelerate faster than some cars, the cheetah is a speedy foe for the goats.

Cheetahs, unlike leopards and lions, hunt during the day. But because they are seen by people they often get the blame for attacks inflicted by other carnivores.

“Some people use cages to catch them and then shoot them in the cage. Unfortunately, people can be very creative when it comes to killing carnivores,” Horgan explained.

“A paper that CCB co-authored in 2017 crunched the numbers and discovered that regionally in southern Africa the number of cheetahs being killed has overtaken the rate at which they are able to breed – meaning that the population is on a downward spiral towards extinction,” she said.

Using the dogs to guard goat herds helps reverse that trend.

Often the scent of dogs is enough to keep the animals away from cattle.

Naomi Torumba, a farmer in the village of Karakubis, in the far west of the country, was given a dog by CCB in 2014 to help her to protect her goats. Her herd has now grown from 25 to 53.

“Through my small stock production, I was able to build my family a house in Karakubis, sold some goats to electrify my house and also bought livestock vaccines,” she said.

Another farmer, Geofrey Moyo, lost around 45 goats to cheetahs at his five-hectare farm, north of Ghanzi, which is west of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

He got in touch with CCB and was allocated two dogs to guard his animals.

“I am seeing fewer carnivores in my area and I am not losing livestock to carnivores, including the cheetah. I am now more tolerant to wildlife,” he said.

Kristina Kesch, a Botswana-based coordinator with another conservation group, the Rangewide Conservation Programme for Cheetah and African Wild Dogs, said she was impressed by the livestock-guarding dog program run by CCB.

“The method is affordable to local farmers and all that is needed is support in dog training and animal welfare,” she told EFE.

“I feel this concept has huge potential to be spread throughout the region.”

Horgan said the future of Botswana’s cheetahs lies in the hands of the farming communities they share the land with.

She described coexistence between farmers and cheetahs as the key to the survival of the species.

The humble Tswana dog is helping to achieve that.

“I wish every goat farmer in cheetah habitat could have one of these dogs,” she added. EFE-EPA

om/jt/rb

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