ranch dog

Dogs could solve many of ranchers’ predator problems.
Image: Shutterstock

Predators are the bane of many a rancher’s existence.  You bet they get tired of coyotes, lions or tigers picking off their cattle or goats one by one.  Depending on where they live, the animals they keep and the predators that stalk them will differ.  Yet, there may be a solution.

You might think the answer is putting up an electric fence around the property.  However, animals can jump over them, crash through them or tunnel under them.  You might assume the answer is shooting the offenders.  Unfortunately, more will always come.  You might say ranchers should simply put poison around the perimeter of their farm.  Well, it’s likely you will inadvertently poison some of your own animals as well.  What’s a rancher to do?

The answer is simple: get a dog.  Yes, man’s best friend is also a rancher’s best friend.  We don’t recommend a Chihuahua, though; we’re talking a big dog that can stare down a lion.  In many parts of the world, this tactic has been employed for centuries.  In countries such as Turkey, Iraq and Syria, “a few clever humans began to deploy dogs to guard their livestock.”  These special dogs stand up to wolves, bears and even lions.

Game keepers in the 20th century killed off so many large predators that smaller ones grew at an accelerated rate.  Populations of jackals and caracals skyrocketed.  Soon those became the target of ranchers.  Shooting those only led to the death of the slower, less evolved of the species exacerbating the problem by creating a super race of cleverer, faster predators.  Normally loud and rowdy, a quiet jackal population grew so they could sneak up on their prey more easily.

An organization called Cheetah Outreach guessed that guard dogs might be a better deterrent to predators than other methods currently used.  In 2005, they started training certain dogs such as Anatolian shepherds to guard ranches.  These dogs weigh up to 150 pounds and stand 29 inches tall at the shoulder.

Yet, many ranchers were skeptical.  In order to entice these farmers to give the dogs a try, Cheetah Outreach educated the recipients on how to train and care for their dogs.  They also paid for each dog’s food, vaccines, neutering, micro-chipping and other veterinary services for a year.

In response, the ranchers had to agree to stop killing cheetahs.  The result?  Ninety percent of the farmers experienced a drop in loss from predator attacks.  However, there were some problems with the program.

It was expensive for Cheetah Outreach; the program cost $2,800 per dog in the first year.  Many farmers did not want to pay to feed and care for a dog.  It was also tough on the dogs.  Many died from animal attacks or snake bites.  The next generation of dogs has been trained to leave snakes alone.

So, what will the future hold?  Perhaps dogs are the answer.  Ranchers just have to buy into the idea that this will save them money in the long run and stop the loss of cheetahs and other large game.  In the meantime, farmers have gained a lot of tolerance for the presence of cheetahs in the vicinity.