There’s something in the long grass. Watching. Waiting. The dog can smell it. He has been resting in the shade of a tree, but he’s not sleeping. He is always vigilant. The animals with him in the paddock are his adopted family – his brothers and sisters. And he will protect them.
The Anatolian Shepherd barks, gets to his feet and lets off another deep, warning bark. That should be enough. If it isn’t, he’ll take further action. Should the predator in the grass – a cheetah looking for an easy meal – actually attack, it would be met with lethal force. The dog will defend his flock – or die trying.
What the cheetah doesn’t know is that the dog is also her friend. Before the Anatolian took over protecting the herd, the farmer who owns the animals would have shot first and asked questions later. The dog has been placed on the land to deter predation by cheetahs, and the strategy is working.
Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) was founded in 1990 in Namibia. Patricia Tricorache, assistant director of international programs, has been with the non-profit organization about nine years. “They’re very protective,” she says of Anatolians, a Turkish breed that’s found a new job on the African continent. The fund has harnessed this protective instinct to create a defender for Namibia’s sprawling farms.
The southern African nation has the highest number of wild cheetahs in the world, and that’s only 3,000. According to Tricorache, worldwide estimates run between 10,000 and 12,000, including a small population in Iran.
Executive director Laurie Marker founded CCF after her experience working with the big cats in Oregon in the 1970s. Tricorache says Marker wanted to know more about the animals, had trouble finding answers, and decided to make it a personal mission. Fast forward a few decades, and Marker has earned a Ph.D. from Oxford, while the non-profit CCF has a million-dollar annual budget (all from donations), a 39,000-hectare farm – including a museum, visitors centre, genetics lab, field research facility and small, luxurious house for ecotourists – and a full-time staff of about 40 (augmented by 100 volunteers each year). “We are the world authority on cheetahs,” Tricorache explains.
Cheetahs are facing a number of obstacles, she says, one of the worst being habitat loss. Cheetahs are also one of the few diurnal hunters, according to Tricorache, which means they’re more visible than hyenas or leopards. To make matters worse, cheetahs sometimes take the blame for kills made by other animals.
In 1994, CCF determined that Anatolians might be the answer to the practice of shooting cheetahs (the fund is also branching into using Kangal Dogs, and has bred smaller mongrels for subsistence farmers). The region of Turkey from which the breed originates has a similar climate to Namibia – very dry, extremely hot during the day, but cold at night. The breed is long-lived and has avoided many of the structural problems often found in large breeds. It also doesn’t hurt that they carry the tonnage to get the job done.
Although it’s legal in Namibia to shoot a cheetah if it’s threatening a farmer’s livelihood, Tricorache says farmers are fundamentally conservationists who would rather not kill animals. Science-based research into the problem of predation was key to winning converts.
The Livestock Guarding Dog program usually gives pups to farmers free of charge, and they’ve placed over 330 so far. Three founding dogs were originally donated by an American breeder.
“The first Anatolians sent to Namibia were donated by Louise Emanuel of Birinci Anatolians in Charlottesville, Va.,” says Marilyn Harned, an accomplished American breeder and breed historian. Other American breeders have contributed dogs or semen.
The dogs relate to whoever they grow up with. At eight weeks of age, that becomes the animals they are supposed to protect. Tricorache says humans are the bosses, but not family – if the dog is going to be a human companion, it probably won’t save the farmer’s livestock. “There is a big, big emphasis on training.”
Tricorache says CCF is seeing success. Since the fund’s arrival in Namibia, the number of cheetahs killed has dramatically decreased. Interestingly, Tricorache is not aware of any case where a CCF dog has killed a cheetah, or vice versa – deterrence, apparently, is enough.
Farms that use the guardian dogs have seen livestock losses drop. And when farmers need to remove a cheetah from the area, trapping them and passing them on to CCF has become an option. The fund’s farm currently houses 52 cheetahs – often injured or orphaned – most of whom will be released.
Three cheetah cubs (cut from the abdomen of a female after the farmer shot her and the wife noticed the animal was pregnant) are being groomed to be ambassadors for the species. They are being habituated to people and fed by hand, and will be used in CCF’s educational programs. The hope is that what these individual animals lose in freedom, the species will gain in admirers. Showing a cheetah to a child is one way of ensuring the species’ survi-val, says Tricorache.
While Anatolians have been getting the job done overseas, North America is not without admirers of the breed. Correna Kelly of Grand Pre, N.S., got her first Anatolian Shepherd 15 years ago from the then-president of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club of America. She produces occasional litters under the name Royal Canadian Anatolians, and says she’s had people on her waiting list for five years.
It’s not surprising the Anatolian was picked by CCF, as the dog Kelly describes sounds born to the role. The national dog of Turkey dates back over 3,000 years, she explains. It’s an independent thinker, a guardian that wants to stay with its charges and lacks a desire to prey upon them. She also says that it has the smarts of a wild animal.
Working independently of people, it can’t afford to risk serious injury, so it follows a progressive path to defending its flock: first a bark from lying down, then standing and barking. Fighting is the last resort. Anatolians have the physical characteristics to handle that task when they must. The breed has been clocked at 32 miles an hour, Kelly says, and her seven-year-old male – Can. & Am. Ch. Kandira’s King of Hearts – stands 33 inches at the withers and weighs in at 140 pounds.
Kelly says the dogs can be aloof, yet the harsh but effective Turkish practice of culling dogs that show aggression to children has resulted in a breed that’s tolerant of small children and women. “A child under 10 or a senior could rob me blind,” says Kelly.
The founder of Royal Canadian Anatolians isn’t opposed to the breed being in more Canadian homes, but she wants to see owners who are good ambassa-dors. These large, independent animals are “not a dog for everyone,” she says.
Tricorache would likely concur. They can be sweet, but “you have to [be] smarter than them,” she says.
Written by: Eric Sparling; Dec 2010