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Conservation Pup In-Training: Part V

Being able to travel to amazing and interesting places is a real blessing in my life that I am grateful for every single day. I recently returned from a month in southern Africa… for me it was like returning home since I lived in South Africa for five years. My husband, Mike, is South African, and he works there most of the year, so my four year old daughter and I usually go at least once a year to see him and to see other family and friends.

This particular trip was not only to visit family though, I ended up spending about ten days visiting with other people and organizations who use “Conservation K9’s” for wildlife conservation. Wildlife is one of the greatest natural resources that Africa has, and tourism is a real economic boost as well as a good reason to protect the incredible diversity found there.

Take the cheetah, for example. Who doesn’t love cheetahs! They are gorgeous, athletic, and alluring creatures! But they are also in great danger. I was lucky enough to spend a week at the Cheetah Conservation Fund  (CCF) in Namibia, where I was able to spend time with cheetahs and the dogs that are helping them. The mission of CCF is stated as:

To be the internationally recognized centre of excellence in the conservation of cheetahs and their ecosystems. CCF will work with all stakeholders to develop best practices in research, education, and land use to benefit all species, including people.”

 

In trying to accomplish this, CCF does many things. They rescue, raise, rehabilitate, and often release cheetahs when possible. The real importance of their work though is in trying to help local livestock farmers strike a harmonious balance with the cheetahs and other wildlife that share the habitat. One way they do this is by raising Livestock Guardian Dogs.

Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD’s), such as the Anatolian Shepherds and Kangals that CCF breeds, are a very effective way to protect livestock where there are large predators. In Namibia, farmers can suffer losses from cheetahs and other large predators that still roam wild. CCF breeds these special dogs and gives them to farmers who need them so that cheetahs will not suffer the consequences.

I spent some time with a litter of four week old LGD puppies that were surrounded by CCF’s own herd of goats. The puppies are raised with livestock, and human attention and cuddling is minimized so that the dogs bond with the livestock rather than people. Once the dogs are ready they live full time with the herds they protect, and they love their job!

While at CCF I also got to meet four other special dogs, the cheetah scat detections dogs! These four dogs and their dedicated human team members spend their days in the field looking for cheetah scat, which is then processed by CCF’s in house genetics lab where so much information can be extracted from one sample. Cheetahs suffer from some genetic problems as a result of their declining populations, and the scat can also relay which individual it came from, what sex it is, stress levels, pregnancy, diet, etc.

These dogs can be very valuable because they speed up what can be a very time consuming process looking for a “needle in a haystack”, especially since cheetahs have such huge home ranges.

I had a great time at CCF meeting the dogs and many of the cheetahs that are non-releasable. Namibia is an amazing country, and I highly recommend it as a travel destination… and of course CCF is open to visitors and is an incredible experience!!

Towards the end of my Africa trip I traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa and attended a workshop dedicated to the use of detection dogs for wildlife conservation. It was here that I had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful people and dogs. I was finally able to meet two very special people in person that I had only conversed with via emails.

Rox Brummer from Green Dogs Conservation was a key participant in the workshop and had so much to share with all of us. Rox and her team are based in South Africa, and have done so much already with dogs including cheetah scat and kill detection as well as a bird control dog for an international airport in South Africa.

The other key speaker at the workshop was Megan Parker from Working Dogs for Conservation, based in Montana. Megan and her team have done much of the pioneering work using dogs for wildlife work. Their past projects span many continents and countries, and she had so much experience and wisdom to share with the group. I also got to meet one of Megan’s dogs, Pepin, a very handsome Belgian Malinois that has been trained to detect many different things in his working career.

This workshop proved an invaluable use of my time, as it was a very unique opportunity to pick the brains of several people who are the most knowledgeable and experienced in this unique field. I thank them all immensely for their time and dedication.

My trip was a success, both personally and professionally. Best of all I came home to happy and healthy dogs who had been so well cared for in my absence. There is no replacement for a great dog-sitter, and I have the best! Ranger was thrilled to see me again and ready to get to work. He is showing so much potential these days… I can’t wait for you to see him next month!

 

 

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Rebecca Ross is a wildlife biologist, wildlife rehabilitator, dog trainer and zoo manager based in Brenham, Tex. She shares her life with four-year-old daughter Camryn, four dogs, four rabbits, twenty-something chickens and a husband who can usually be somewhere in the skies over southern Africa. Rebecca writes a monthly blog for The Bark about training her first conservation dog, Ranger.

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