A unique program pairing guard dogs with livestock could hold the key to saving the cheetah, Africa's most endangered cat.
Laurie Marker, Ph D., visited Escondido recently as part of her U.S. tour to raise awareness about threats to the animal revered by many for its speed.
"What people don't realize that they're running their most important race and that's for their very survival," Marker said.
With an ongoing loss of habitat and an increase in illegal wildlife trade, their population has dwindled.
“There are only 10,000 cheetahs left in the world," she said.
Outside of hunters seeking fur, the biggest threat to cheetahs are African farmers.
Because cheetahs have been known to kill and eat livestock, many farmers kill the cats to protect their herds.
As Executive Director and Founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, located in Namibia, Marker has developed a unique guard dog program to help stop the killing.
Marker’s team trains Anatolian Shepherd Dogs to live with a farmer’s livestock. The dogs then serve as a security system when they sense a cheetah is near.
"We've put out about 500 dogs into our rural communities," Marker said.
"The dog acts as a guardian they protect the livestock they bark loudly there is a lot of avoidance from the predators,” she said. “They don’t want to come near a herd that is protected."
The program is working.
By tracking the dogs, what they've discovered is that herds protected by guard dogs have 80 percent less livestock loss than those that were unguarded.
Marker said there is a long waiting list for dogs and she's touring the U.S. this spring asking those who care about the cheetah to help sponsor the program.
She believes that those rare opportunities when humans can get close to one of nature’s true wild wonders, will help save the cheetah.
"They listen to the cheetah purr. They see what it is looking at and they can actually kind of feel that cheetah next to them and understand why it is this beautiful animal needs help," she explains.
For those interested in learning more about the Cheetah Conservation Fund or to adopt a cheetah or a guide dog go to the organization's website.