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Working Dogs – Guard Dogs Benefit Livestock and Wildlife in Europe and Africa

Small HamsterAt first glance, providing farmers with Karakachans, Kangals and other large, aggressive dogs might not seem an ideal conservation strategy.  However, biologists based in Bulgaria and Namibia are doing just that – and both farmers and wildlife are reaping the benefits.

Why Use Dogs at All?

Farmers who use dogs to protect their flocks do not need to rely upon poison, which has for decades been the predator-control method of choice.  Poison-laced-bait kills “target species” such as leopards, bears and other large predators as well as rodents, vultures and smaller animals.  When the poisoned creature itself dies, scavengers that feed upon its corpse may in turn become victims.  

Predators avoid flocks attended by dogs…those that do approach are chased off, but are rarely if ever caught and injured.

A Turkish Giant goes to Africa

The huge Kangal is a rather rare breed of dog that has been used to protect livestock in Turkey for over 5,000 years.  The Cheetah Conservation Fund, based in Namibia, Africa, has found Kangals and Anatolian Sheppards to be very effective in discouraging cheetahs and other large predators from attacking sheep and goats…livestock losses typically drop 80-90% once Kangals are employed.  The group now administers the Livestock Guarding Dog program, which assists farmers in obtaining and caring for these otherwise unavailable dogs.So far, 375 dogs have been placed, and local interest in the program is growing (despite their size and protective nature, Kangals are usually quite tolerant of people and are known for their gentleness with children).  In addition to locating breeders willing to donate these expensive dogs, Cheetah Conservation Fund staff members operate a breeding program and provide free training and veterinary care.

Thwarting Bears and Wolves in Bulgaria

Although Brown Bear and Gray Wolf populations have declined drastically throughout Europe, both species still threaten the livelihoods of livestock breeders in Bulgaria. As in other places, laying out poisoned baits has proven to be the most cost-effective method of predator control.  The effects on Bulgaria’s wildlife, however, have been terrible.  Eagles and other birds of prey, which frequently feed upon poisoned carcasses, have been particularly hard hit…at last count, only 31 pairs of Egyptian Vultures remained in the region.

 Karakachan DogThe massive Karakachan, a breed long valued for its guarding abilities, has been enlisted to help Bulgaria’s domestic and wild animals.  Somewhat like an English Mastiff in size and build, Karakachans scare off bears and wolves, and so eliminate the need for poisons.  The dogs are uncommon and expensive, but local conservation groups and breeders are cooperating in an effort to provide farmers with pups and trained adults.

Further Reading

This Video describes the use of Kangals as Cheetah deterrents in Namibia.

Karakachan History

Kangal History  


Anatolian Shepherd Dog image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Tibilou
Karakachan Dog image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Karak


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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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