Dogs have been used to protect livestock for centuries. But as large predators have been eradicated throughout much of the world, the popularity of livestock guarding dogs (LGDs) also declined (Urbigkit & Urbigkit, 2010). Now, however, they are making a comeback.
How LGDs are Helping Wild Felids
The most notable example of LGDs being used to benefit wild felids comes from southern Africa. There, dogs are playing an important role in reducing human-cheetah conflict.
The cheetah’s (Acinonyx jubatus) range used to include most of Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia (Marker, Dickman, & Schumann, 2005). But cheetah numbers have fallen by nearly 90% (Marker, Dickman, Mills, & Macdonald, 2010), and they are currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List (Durant, Mitchell, Ipavec, & Groom, 2015). There are many reasons for this decline, but human-wildlife conflict is a partly to blame. Farmers often perceive cheetahs as threats to their livestock, which leads to widespread killing of the cats (Marker et al., 2010; Panthera, 2016a).
In 1994, the Cheetah Conservation Fund brought 10 Anatolian Shepherd dogs to Namibia (Marker et al., 2005; Marker et al., 2010). Their goal was to reduce depredation on livestock in order to increase farmers’ tolerance for cheetahs. The results have been impressive.
After owning a LGD for one year, 74% of farmers reported no losses to predators (Marker et al., 2010). As the program has matured and expanded, the results have improved. LGDs have virtually eliminated livestock depredation on 90% of participating farms in South Africa. This saves farmers more than $3,000 per year (Crandall, 2014; Marker & Boast, 2015). Just as importantly, the dogs are reducing cheetah persecution (Potgieter, 2011; Crandall, 2014).
Livestock Guarding Dogs Go Global
LGDs are not only relieving human-wildlife conflict in southern Africa. They are also being used in North America (Urbigkit & Urbigkit, 2010), Slovakia (Rigg et al., 2009), Mongolia (Elfstrom, 2015), and elsewhere. Khan (2009) even suggests dogs could help reduce the severe case of human-tiger conflict in the Sundarbans. But in the Russian Far East fleeing dogs have led tigers towards people, resulting in attacks (Goodrich, Seryedkin, Miquelle, & Bereznuk, 2011). Therefore dogs in the Sundarbans should be kept on a leash to avoid this outcome.
Drawbacks to Livestock Guarding Dogs
Despite their success at reducing human-wildlife conflict, LGDs do have some drawbacks. For one thing, purebred dogs are expensive to raise and maintain. While they are more cost effective than lethal control of predators (McManus, Dickman, Gaynor, Smuts, & Macdonald, 2014); these expenses may prove prohibitive for subsistence farmers (Potgieter, 2011; Pimm, 2014). Luckily, mixed-breed dogs are cheaper and just as effective as pure-breed ones (Pimm, 2014).
In addition, LGDs are known to chase and kill wildlife. This includes both predators and ungulates (Marker et al., 2005; Potgieter, 2011). In one case a LGD even killed a cheetah. Fortunately proper training can minimize this problem, and livestock guarding dogs are far less harmful to large predators than culling them (Potgieter, 2011).
Perhaps the most significant limitation of LGDs is that they do not eliminate carnivore persecution (McManus et al., 2014; Marker & Boast, 2015; Potgieter et al., 2011). This is a repeating pattern: oftentimes wild animals continue to be killed even when the damage they cause has been greatly reduced (Dickman, 2010). This is because human-wildlife conflict is partly motivated by social and psychological factors (Dickman, 2010; Marchini & Macdonald, 2012; Marker & Boast, 2015).
All-in-all, LGDs are an excellent conservation tool. They can minimize, or even eliminate, depredation on livestock. This often leads to increased tolerance for large predators. But carnivore killing frequently continues in spite of the benefits of LGDs. For this reason, livestock guarding dogs should be used in conjunction with strategies that target the social and psychological drivers of human-wildlife conflict.
Crandall, E. (2014). Cats’ best friend? A new role for guard dogs in South Africa. Mongabay. Retrieved from http://news.mongabay.com/2014/07/cats-best-friend-a-new-role-for-guard-dogs-in-south-africa/.
Marker, L., Dickman, A., & Schumann, M. (2005). Using livestock guarding dogs as a conflict resolution strategy on Namibian Farms. Carnivore Damage Prevention News, 28-32. Retrieved from http://cheetah.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2005/01/Using-Guarding-Dogs-as-Conflict-Resolution-CDP.pdf.
Marker, L., Dickman, A. J., Mills, M. G. L., & Macdonald, D. W. (2010). Cheetahs and ranchers in Namibia: A case study. In D. W. Macdonald & A. J. Loveridge (Eds.), Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids (pp. 353-372). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Potgieter, G. (2011). The Effectiveness of livestock guarding dogs for livestock production and conservation in Namibia (Unpublished masters thesis). Nelson Mandela University, South Africa. Retrieved from http://www.the-eis.com/data/literature/GC%20Potgieter%20210122668%20MSc%20dissertation.pdf.