Winding through the parched Namibian farmland, Bonzo, an Anatolian shepherd dog, has a singular focus: protecting his herd of goats from lurking predators.
He pads along, sniffing the air and marking the scrubby landscape, just like a bodyguard ready to ward off any threat to his charges, which he considers family.
“They’re not pets. They’re not allowed to be pets,” said Bonzo’s owner farmer Retha Joubert.
The breed descends from ancient livestock dogs used thousands of years ago in what is now central Turkey. And they not only save sheep and goats, but have handed a lifeline to Namibia’s decimated cheetah numbers by reducing conflicts between farmers and predators.
“The dogs are protecting the flock in such a way that the farmers don’t have to kill predators,” said Laurie Marker of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) which breeds the dogs near the northern city Otjiwarongo.
“It’s a non-lethal predator control method so it is green, it’s happy, it’s win-win.”
The concept is simple : The dogs are placed with a flock when a few weeks old to bond with the livestock. They live permanently with the animals, loyally heading out with them every day to deter hunters, and bedding down with them at night.
Marker’s centre started breeding the livestock dogs to promote cheetah-friendly farming after some 10,000 big cats — the current total worldwide population — were killed or moved off farms in the 1980s.
Up to 1,000 cheetahs were being killed a year, mostly by farmers who saw them as livestock killers.
But the use of dogs has slashed losses for sheep and goat farmers and led to less retaliation against the vulnerable cheetah.
“We see about 80 to 100 percent decrease of livestock loss from any predator when the farmers have the dogs,” said Marker.
In the last 19 years, around 450 dogs have been placed with farmers and more than 3,000 farmers trained.
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