This past week I have been up in the Limpopo province of SA which borders Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
I am here as part of the Anatolian Guard Dog Project - in 2005 Cheetah Outreach introduced the Anatolian Shepherd to farmers in South Africa to help protect Cheetah and other predator species from being persecuted against for loss of stock.
The Anatolian Shepard was chosen as it is a large breed, loyal dog in nature and confrontational if threatened. The dog is raised with the stock it will be placed with from a puppy which then becomes the dog’s 'pack'.
This project was started in SA after seeing a drop in stock losses in farms with dogs placed and success in human - predator conflict numbers in Namibia.
Since the programme was put into action, dogs have been placed on farms in Cheetah and Leopard range in Limpopo and North West Provinces, where they have reduced stock and game losses from 95 to 100%. Since then, some farmers have more than one dog after seeing the success.
In 2014 another breed of dog, called the Maluti dog, was placed in farms outside Cheetah range to protect sheep and goats from smaller predators like the Caracal and Black-backed Jackal.
The farmers are supported by the Anatolian Guard Dog Field Coordinator and provided with food and medical care for the dogs - free for the first year, which is made possible by the sponsors of this programme such as Wellington Zoo. After the initial year of financial support, the Field Coordinators will still support and keep in contact with the farmers and check up on the dogs.
I have been out to a few farms with Deon Cilliers, the Project Coordinator of the Livestock Guardian Programme. Deon delivers food, checks over the dogs and receives updates from the farmers regarding stock and care of the dog.
Although the dogs are raised with the stock, they are still able to be handled by the farmers and Deon encourages the farmers to touch the dog as it is feeding, so they can perform health checks, looking for things like ticks etc.
The dogs are well kept for and the bond between the dog and stock is obvious.
I am staying on a game reserve where the Anatolian Guard Breeding Programme is situated. Rox Brummer oversees the breeding facility through a partnership between Greens Dog Conservation and Cheetah Outreach. Rox has a long and respected career in wildlife conservation.
The dogs at the breeding centre are kept in big camps with other companion dogs. I have been a part of the daily care and husbandry of these dogs, which includes long walks on the game reserve and down to watering holes where the dogs can go for a swim together.
Yesterday I went out with two researchers from the UK - they are measuring stock loss and game population densities of farms with and without the guard dog’s presence. We did this by surveying certain areas of the farm for prey and predator scat and today we checked the camera traps and spotted a Leopard and a pair of Black-backed Jackals.
On the game reserve where I am staying I have seen wild Kudu, Impala, Elon, Warthog and lots of Baboons and Vervet monkeys - just to name a few. We have also come across Leopard tracks. The farms are known to have Leopard and Cheetah on it, but Rox practises what she preaches and has Anatolians guarding her goats, with no stock losses.
I went to the Mapungupwe National Reserve where Deon worked previously, the reserve has the Limpopo River running through this - just across the river you can clearly see Botswana and Zimbabwe. I was lucky enough to see a few Elephants, lots of game ungulates and Zebra crossing the road right in front of us.
At the farm where we were doing the surveying, I saw a herd of five wild Giraffe just eating through the bush.