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Conservation Dogs

Conservation Dogs

Photo courtesy of Endangered Wildlife Trust

The Anatolian shepherd is a Turkish livestock dog known for its dedication, intelligence and independence. A very large (males weigh up to 150 pounds), rugged, protective and powerful breed, they are unmatched guardians. Turkish women working in the fields used to tie a rope around the waist of young children and tie the other to the Anatolian’s collar.

Raised with the livestock that it will be guarding as an adult, the Anatolian's extreme loyalty and dedication to its flock allow it to fend off even large predators. For this reason, the use of this breed can protect endangered carnivores in Africa. Farmers with these “conservation dogs” guarding their flocks have notably less conflict with predators like cheetahs, lions, leopards, hyenas and African wild dogs. The dogs work to keep predators away, protecting the farmers’ livestock and decreasing human-wildlife conflict. When their livestock are safe, farmers can learn to coexist with predators.

Livestock guarding is only one role that dogs now play in conservation and their tremendous abilities, trainability and willingness to work with humans are securing them an important place in the fight to protect wildlife and wild places.

Conservation dogs can not only guard livestock and deter predators, but their powerful noses and tracking abilities can also be used in the field to detect target animal and plant species and other things in the environment such as animal scat. They are also used to help address illegal activity and poaching by locating snares, poachers, weapons and also sniffing out illegal wildlife products such as ivory and rhino horn at ports and check points.

In addition to Anatolian shepherds and Kangal dogs used for livestock guarding, other breeds are used for other jobs. Breeds commonly seen are German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Labrador Retrievers, English Springer Spaniels, German Shorthaired Pointers and even Beagles (particularly as sniffer dogs). Some conservation dogs are local dogs or even rescues. Ironically, many of these dogs end up in shelters because of the very qualities that make them good working dogs – high energy and play needs combined with intense focus and drive.

The Zoo and Zoo Society strongly support the deployment of conservation dogs and these talented canines are at work with a number of our field partners across the globe. Through our support conservation dogs are locating endangered turtles in the field in Vietnam, sniffing for illegal rhino horn at ports in Kenya, and guarding livestock in South Africa.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust Livestock Guarding Dog Project utilizes livestock guarding dogs to minimize conflict between humans and large carnivores in South Africa. The program has been helping farmers effectively protect their livestock since 2006, with more than 140 dogs deployed and an 84% dog success rate. On average the reduction is livestock loss has been 90- 95% with dogs in place.

The African Wildlife Foundation partners with the Kenya Wildlife Service to help address the ivory and rhino horn trade and deter wildlife trafficking by utilizing sniffer dogs to track and apprehend poachers in protected area and detect ivory and rhino horn at key transit sites (airports, etc.). These specially trained canines can detect animal products with more than 90 percent accuracy. The goal is to double the number of dogs and trained handlers that are already deployed.

Working with the Ruaha Carnivore Project we have piloted a livestock guarding dog project in and around Ruaha National Park, Tanzania to help address human-carnivore conflict in the area. The program is part of the Ruaha Carnivore Project’s conflict mitigation program and helps to address conflicts between local communities and wild carnivores (including lion, cheetah, leopard, spotted hyena and African wild dogs) which sometimes prey on livestock.

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