Can Livestock Guarding Dogs Save Big Cats?

Anatolian Shepherds make excellent livestock guarding dogs. Having a Stretch Anatolian Shepherd by Steve Slater. CC BY 2.0
Anatolian Shepherds make great livestock guarding dogs. Having a Stretch Anatolian Shepherd by Steve Slater. CC BY 2.0

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.

Livestock-related conflict is a major problem for cheetahs in some areas. Cheetahs by John Schinker. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Livestock-related conflict is a major problem for cheetahs in some areas. Cheetahs by John Schinker. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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).

Potgieter (2011) found that jackal mortality increased after LGDs were introduced, because both the dogs and farmers killed them. Botswana Day 3 107 Jackal by John Karwoski. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Potgieter (2011) found that jackal mortality increased after LGDs were introduced, because both dogs and farmers killed them. Botswana Day 3 107 Jackal by John Karwoski. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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).

Conclusion

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.

Further Reading:

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.

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29 thoughts on “Can Livestock Guarding Dogs Save Big Cats?

    1. Yes, big dogs are being used all over the world to protect livestock. The current trend actually started in North America.

      They definitely need a lot of food! That’s one of the reasons subsistence farmers sometimes have trouble maintaining the dogs. But the overall cost of the dogs + food is lower than widespread predator control, because the dogs are much more effective at reducing livestock losses.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Great question Becky! Based on the literature I’ve come across, the only area in which tigers commonly prey on LGDs is in the Russian Far East. This seems to be because livestock is managed well there, so the dogs are an easier target for tigers who are in poor health (which are the most common ‘problem’ tigers).

      Ironically, dogs who are on a hand-held leash might be safer than those who are not. Walking in big cat country with an unleashed dog is considered to be a significant risk factor, because their strong sense of smell makes them prone to scare cats out of hiding. The old adage of “it’s more afraid of you than you are of it” is true the vast majority of the time when it comes to big cats; so a cat that’s flushed out of cover may well feel it’s life is at stake. This can lead it to attack the dog, which will likely run back to its owner for safety. This obviously carries huge risks for all parties.

      In fact the Khan (2009) study I mentioned did keep dogs on leashes while testing their usefulness in the Sundarbans. This allowed them to give advanced warning (via barking) of tigers that approached people, without provoking any tigers that kept their distance. I don’t recall any mention of whether or not any dogs were injured during the trials.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. All the studies I found claimed that it’s one of the most cost effective ways to protect livestock, because the amount of money saved from losing fewer animals more than makes up for the costs of maintaining the dogs. However, the startup and maintenance costs can be prohibitive for subsistence farmers; because they are often quite poor. The CCF offers discounts on dog food for these farmers, but I’m not sure how other organizations deal with this problem. Using mixed-breed dogs can also cut down on the costs.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. When I first saw the title I thought of mastiffs (formerly big cat hunters and war dogs) being used to Shepard big cats around.
    Your conclusion was a lot less fanciful than mine but much more interesting. I would have thought that lgd were the norm in areas of predation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, sheperding big cats around would not be easy! LGD used to be the norm wherever large predators and livestock shared the same habitat, but people stopped using them once most of the predators were exterminated. In Mongolia LGDs were also purposely killed off by the Soviet Union because they were considered dangerous. But now that large predators populations are beginning to recover in some areas the dogs are also making a comeback.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In Portugal, we also have something similar. Shepherd dogs are used to protect livestock against wolfs and, at the same time, protect wolfs from being killed by shepherds and local people.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great read, really interesting. I grew up in Kenya and conflicts between people and predators are far to common and sadly usually result with the predators being persecuted and killed. Lets hope that more people start to use LGDs

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s what I hope too. What part of Kenya did you grow up in? I know in some areas there’s lots of conflict between pastoralists and large predators like lions. There seems to be a lot written about the Masai in particular.

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      1. I grew up in Nairobi. It saddens me each time I hear of a lion killed, its too much of a regular occurence. The masaii prize their cattle and will poison carcasses of dead cattle to poison the lions when they return to finish their meal.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s what I heard: cattle are important both financially and culturally for the Masaii. There also seems to be some speculation that lion killings are partly motivated by feelings of political marginalization, although I (obviously) have no direct experience in the matter.

          Liked by 1 person

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