Farmers Make Friends With the Predator They Used to Poison

A Namibian nonprofit teaches local farmers that endangered cheetahs can actually benefit their livestock.

Cheetahs in Namibia are protected with the help of dogs.
Cheetahs in Namibia used to be poisoned in order to keep them from attacking farmers' livestock. (Photo: Art Wolfe/Getty Images)
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Humanity and wildlife aren’t often thought of as compatible entities. After all, people are the reason that the world’s panda population is dwindling, elephants and rhinos are being poached into near nonexistence and bear cubs, on our own soil, are being orphaned by the dozens. But the idea that we can coexist peacefully is more than a utopian dream; in Namibia, it’s a reality, and it’s helping protect the country’s endangered cheetah population.

The Cheetah Conservation Fund utilizes an innovative approach that teaches Namibian farmers how to protect their livestock populations without killing one of its foremost predators.

According to National Geographic, CCF breeds and trains Anatolian sheep dogs to serve as protectors for farmers’ livestock. Instead of killing cheetahs, the dogs serve to simply intimidate them enough to prevent an attack—and it works. CCF reports that since the program’s inception, those who participate have seen livestock survival rates close to 80 percent.

It seems counterintuitive, but the initiative proves that predator-friendly farming actually improves farming revenue. CCF will even help market beef from these farms, known as Cheetah Country Beef. Sold at a premium price point, the profits go back to the farmers, so land owners reap an increased value from cheetah populations, rendering them even more invested in the animal’s survival.

There are only about 10,000 of these predators left worldwide, and in Namibia those numbers total around 3,000. For reasons that aren’t completely clear, cheetahs don’t have a high survival rate in big-game preserves, so protecting them in the wild is crucial to their existence.

Prior to CCF’s program, Namibian farmers often poisoned cheetahs in an attempt to protect their main means of income. But now that method isn’t necessary, so not only are the animals safer, but the environment is also less polluted with toxins.

Laurie Marker, CCF’s cofounder, tells National Geographic that at the start of the program in the 1990s, local farmers were initially suspicious of the idea. However, today there’s a two-year waiting list to receive a trained sheep dog. Not only does the nonprofit provide the landowners with fully trained canines, it also provides them with ongoing veterinary care, all of which is free of charge.

But while CCF is protecting the cheetahs from danger on farmland, the nonprofit is also protecting their natural habitat. In Namibia, an overgrowth of thick, thorny bush, caused by over-grazing and fire suppression, has taken over what were once vast stretches of open savannah. It’s dangerous to wildlife and useless to farmers.

To address the problem, CCF hires local workers to clear the overgrowth, put it through a woodchipper and send it to a local processing plant. There, those chips are pressed into compact logs, which are sold for home cooking and heating purposes. Named BushBlok, the logs produce low emissions and are a sustainable source of energy that benefits the farmers, who can now use the land for grazing, and for the wildlife, which can use it to roam free.

Cheetah survival rates still have a long ways to go before the animals are considered safe from extinction, but much like the innovative conservancy method of rewilding, CCF’s program proves that humanity and wildlife can not only coexist, but they can also reap significant benefits from each other when both their needs are addressed.

Do you think the U.S. would be willing to use these same principles to solve its own conflict between human beings and wildlife habitats? Let us know in the Comments.

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