Dogs: Heroes of Conservation
Working Dogs for Conservation (WD4C) frequently rescues dogs facing being euthanized and gives them a special task in conservation work. Learn more in the following blog
Dogs turn out to be the heroes of conservation – among being loyal, protective, loveable and absolutely amazing. Some of the dogs – from which about one million are euthanized in shelters each year – are rescued by Megan Parker and her partners at Working Dogs for Conservation (WD4C). And WD4C loves the high-energy, obsessive dogs; dogs nobody else wants. But WD4C doesn’t simply safe the dogs; they give them a special task: the animals get to work by putting their extraordinary high-energy skills to use in a variety of conservation-related activities.
These dogs become heroes that would have been killed if not placed in projects like sniffing out arms and ammunition used by Zambian poachers to detec ting invasive weeds before they break the surface. Megan Parker and her fellows choose dogs which show an outstanding desire to play with a toy; high-energy dogs that would do anything to fetch or tug.
In order to train the dogs to identify specific scents – for example ivory, invasive weeds or ammunition – Parker links the scent with a reward, usually a ball or a tug toy. Parker’s key: positive training, meaning that everything Parker’s team wants the dogs to find is linked with what they love.
The dogs they train get placed in countries as far away as Zambia. These animals are trained to identify things such as gunpowder, illegal ammunition, elephant ivory, rhino horn, illegal bush meat species, leopard skins and lion.
Dog Heroes and Cheetah Protection
Over the past one hundred years the cheetah population worldwide has dropped from 100.000 to 10.000. One of the cheetahs' challenges has to do with their greatest asset: their speed.
Cheetahs have the ability to speed up to 70 miles per hour in just three seconds. Due to their fascinating anatomy, they can be seen as aerodynamic wonders of incomparable speed.
But what they have in speed, they lack in power: Cheetahs often have trouble competing with larger and more powerful cats. Lions, leopards and other big cats often steal a cheetah’s prey and kill their young. By living outside of game reserves where many of their competitors are found, cheetahs have dealt with this problem. As a result, 90% of the cheetahs in Namibia live outside of protected areas alongside humans – which leads to another problem: The Human-Wildlife Conflict. Many farmers see cheetahs as a danger for their livestock and, out of sheer necessity, often kill the animals.
Laurie Markers first tasks when moving to Namibia to start the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), was to sit with farmers and listen. Solutions had to be found, since numerous cheetahs had been killed by livestock farmers. The most difficult part here: Balancing all of the interests of the people involved and giving all stakeholders a voice in the solution.
Livestock farmers in Namibia deal with an arid environment with regular drought, which makes it difficult enough to feed a family. Asking them to care about wildlife conservation under these circumstances is just not reasonable.
Due to this issue “Future Farmers of Africa”, a human-wildlife conflict mitigation initiative, has been brought into being by CCF. In collaboration with local farmers, the programme aims at finding predator-friendly livestock and wildlife management techniques.
A technique that Marker pioneered in Namibia with: the use of Anatolian shepherds and Kangal dogs. The dogs are carefully selected; they are highly intelligent animals, protective of the livestock and able to drive away pretty much all large predators. Drops in predation rates of between 80 and 100% have been reported by farmers who have used Anatolian and Kangal dogs to protect their herds. There now is a two-year waiting list for puppies as farmers are more than enthusiastic about the programme.
Laurie Marker and Megan Parker, both using dogs for conservation, are two of numerous conservationists featured in Lori Robinson's new book "Wild Lives, Leading Conservationists on the Animals and Planet They Love". Lori Robinson is a passionate conservationist and true wildlife enthusiast. With degrees in biology, environmental studies and psychology, she worked for the Jane Goodall Institute between 2004 and 2010. If you want to learn more about Lori, her work and different conservation topics visit her website Saving Wild.