For Tiger, a blind Anatolian Shepherd dog, his life took a very unexpected turn. Once used as an ‘enemy’ of cheetah, Tiger now finds himself in the lap of luxury in the midst of many cheetahs.
Tiger was used as a cheetah deterrent on a farm in Limpopo, where he lived among livestock to protect them from the predator, but an encounter with a Mozambican Spitting Cobra, when he was not even a year old, left him blind and of no use to his owners. His fate was euthanasia. However, a kind-hearted and passionate veterinarian who regularly works with the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre, stepped in to save the beautiful dog’s life and now Tiger is free to spend his days among humans, surrounded by his former enemies at the centre.
“He was completely wild. These dogs are raised with livestock and no human interaction,” says Micaela Mare (22), an animal curator at the centre who was ‘adopted’ by Tiger. “When he was brought to the vet, he was wild and not used to humans at all and it took a while for him to adapt. Being suddenly blind probably made him adapt sooner and by the time he came to the centre a few months later, he was affectionate and loved being around people.
And yes, he adopted Micaela. The idea was to use him as part of the centre’s educational projects and became the centre dog, but he struggled to adapt to living alone again and suffered separation anxiety when he had to go to his cage at night. And he loved Micaela, who he followed around whenever he could. “I realised the best for him would be to live with me. Now he sleeps next to me!”
Anatolians have been used on farms in South Africa since 2005 when Cheetah Outreach introduced the Anatolian Shepherd to serve farmers. A Turkish breed, the Anatolian shepherd was originally bred to protect livestock from bears and wolves. Given to farmers at 6 to 8 weeks of age, the dogs are raised exclusively with the flock or herd, instinctively protecting them from a variety of predators including cheetah. By deterring predators, this important working relationship removes the need for farmers to trap and shoot this endangered cat.
Because the majority of cheetahs in southern Africa live outside protected areas on farmland, it is essential for the survival of the species to find non-lethal methods of protecting livestock from predators in order to reduce conflict between farmers and cheetahs.
“What we have here is a simple answer, to an age-old solution, that has been around for thousands of years,” says Deon Cilliers, who is part of Cheetah Outreach’s Livestock guarding dog programme and is an author of a study on the subject.
According to Cheetah Outreach, the dogs reduce the number of livestock killed by predators by between 97 percent and 100 percent. Research has shown cheetah are easily driven off by such dogs and resort to feeding on wildlife instead. Farmers are then less inclined to hunt them. It is said that these dogs have been used to guard livestock for at least 6 000 years.
“Although blind, Tiger adapts to a new environment very quickly. He stays close to a person and learns to avoid obstacles. Nothing is moved in the house to make his life easier. I believe he learns even more quickly than other dogs,” she says. Micaela regularly takes him to a dog park, and he loves the interaction with other dogs. “He walks beautifully off-lead and stays close for guidance. He loves other dogs and just wants to play. And he plays fetch with his noisy ball just as other dogs do.”
Watching the two of them, their special bond is evident. Approaching an obstacle, Micaela warns Tiger “slowly” and he immediately reacts by sniffing on the ground, ‘looking’ for obstacles. He has become part and parcel of her life, and the lives of others at the cheetah centre, even his former enemies – the cheetahs that live on the other side of the fence.