by Meredith Hanel, Guest writer
Canadians are proud of our wild animals, especially predators like bears, cougars and wolves. But that’s easier for urbanites who don’t have to worry about meeting them on their home turf. For many Canadian farmers it is a challenge to protect their livestock from these large predators. While the predators are different, African farmers share similar challenges and solutions, like Livestock Guarding Dogs and a change in attitude towards predators.
Cheetahs rarely hurt people but they do kill valuable livestock from farms, and that harms the farmers’ ability to provide for their family. The farmers’ response to this threat to their livelihood, when Laurie Marker came to Namibia 40 years ago, was that farmers were “killing cheetahs like flies”. Similarly, European settlers in North America, until the middle of the last century, took the approach of eradicating cougars and wolves from large areas of North America, to protect their livestock. While our cougar and wolf populations are rebounding, in Africa, cheetahs are still dangerously close to extinction, due to their reduced genetic diversity because they suffered two major hits to their population, before man became the main threat to their survival.
A big part of CCF’s mandate is to manage human-wildlife conflict. CCF has a Livestock Guarding Dog (LGD) program. These Anatolian Shepherd and Kangal dogs have protected livestock against wolves and bears in Turkey for millennia and now they are saving cheetahs. The CCF LGD program has reduced predation by over 80%, allowing farmers in Namibia to protect their livestock without killing these endangered predators.
In North America, the use of Livestock Guarding Dogs to protect from bears, cougars, wolves and coyotes is catching on. The National Research Centre in Utah is doing a study to identify the best dog breeds to protect from wolves. Saskatchewan and Alberta sheep and cattle farmers have been in the news for successfully using Livestock Guarding Dogs to protect their sheep from wolves and coyotes as an alternative to hunting and shooting them. Studies show that shooting them often doesn’t work anyways because new predators move in when one is killed.
To appeal to consumers that might prefer to buy and pay more for meat from farms that live in better harmony with their local predators, farmers in Africa and in North America who use non-lethal methods like fencing and livestock guarding dogs are labelling their products as Predator-Friendly or Certified Wildlife Friendly. In Namibia, eco-labelling also includes, “Cheetah Country Beef” and CCF’s model farm using the Livestock Guarding Dog Program produces dairy products that are Certified Wildlife Friendly at their Dancing Goat Creamery.
Whether they are cheetahs in Africa or cougars in Canada, it is better to have predators around, as they have a vital role in keeping herbivore populations healthy and preventing them from eating too much vegetation which can destroy the habitats of other animals. Humans have a long history of disrupting the balance of ecosystems. There is hope that by learning to live with predators, humans can restore that balance.
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