By “Safari Mike” Appelbaum
Have you ever met a Kangal? Well, I’m not surprised. After all, where would you ever come across a Kangal? No, not at a cocktail party! The Kangal happens to be the national dog of Turkey and is unquestionably the best dog on the planet for a purpose that is very close to my heart. Unless you lived in Turkey and owned livestock chances are pretty good you’ve never heard of this breed. While the Anatolian Shepherd and Kangal are very similar and often labeled as the same breed, they are responsible for saving the lives of hundreds of cheetah in Namibia. No, not in the traditional way we think of life saving, but by being the toughest dog you’ll probably ever meet. These are “livestock guardian dogs” and while they are similar to the Great Pyrenees that you’re probably more familiar with (you know the huge beautiful white hairy dogs), the Kangals and Anatolian Shepherds may seem to be on steroids. These dogs have been guarding livestock for over 5,000 years so they have plenty of practice at their profession. These are not herding dogs, these are “protectors”. They bond with and live with the livestock and they GUARD them. Seriously, if you are a leopard or cheetah(coyote, wolf, bear…you name it) these dogs couldn’t care less. They are introduced to their charges when they are still cut little puppies so they develop a bond as they grow. And boy, do they grow. These become very powerful guardians.
So, you ask, how do they save the cheetah? (What a great question…) Well, there are only about 7,000 cheetah left in the wild (in the entire world). Today about 1/3 of that cheetah population is in Namibia (that country in the southwestern part of Africa I’ve written about before) and many of them live near land that is either owned by commercial farmers or is close to farmer’s property. All these farmers own livestock (goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, poultry) and right up ‘till the 1990’s farmers would kill any cheetah they saw on their property to protect their livestock. The cheetah population was being decimated.
Fortunately, in 1990 Dr. Laurie Marker founded the Cheetah Conservation Fund with its headquarters in Otjiwarongo, Namibia (try saying that, much less having a clue where it’s located). The purpose of CCF was to protect the cheetah habitats outside of preserves and to reduce the conflict between humans and cheetah. The use of the Anatolian Shepherd/Kangal was at the time an experiment to attempt non-lethal predator control to protect the livestock. I was intrigued by the concept and got involved and even tried to start a local CCF chapter in south Florida, but that’s another story for another time.
However, just a few years later, I was invited by CCF to see the Operation Center first hand. Wow, a very special trip to…guess where? Yup, Otjiwarongo to visit with CCF, the cheetah and the dogs. Now, this was definitely not a simple “get on the bus, Gus” type of trip. Not by a long shot. Back then you didn’t just stop at the Delta desk and ask for the next flight to ‘Otji-whatever.’ No way! If you weren’t already in Windhoek, Namibia, you would have spent the next 38 hours learning the geography of Africa first hand as you attempted to get to one of the least traveled destinations your travel agent never heard of. However, my Skeleton Coast safari brought me this far so for me it was a no-brainer.
My visit to Cheetah Conservation Fund’s Operations Center was like a dream come true. Cheetah and Anatolian Shepherds….This was truly where the action was taking place and I was loving it. Since my childhood dream was to have a pet cheetah (I never said I was normal) I was enthralled with all the testing and training and observations that were taking place in order to help save the cheetah. It was here that I really got to see the Anatolians doing exactly what they were capable of…right in the middle of cheetah country.
These images are not intended to show you a pretty, well-groomed show dog. Au contraire. Meet Rambo…at work! This is what a 150lb. muscular Anatolian Shepherd or Kangal (both breeds are similar) looks like. This baby is on duty round the clock with no time-off for good behavior. He’s exactly where he wants to be! He loves his goats and sheep and bonds with the flock, so don’t even think about messing with them. He literally lives with them 24/7 and If he doesn’t know you…stay away! Essentially, he needs no training or guidance. He is there to protect his property and every member of his family whether livestock or human. As much as I wanted to get up close and greet him and his friends, I was a stranger… and since he was “on duty” I elected to exercise my better judgement and wait until I was properly introduced.
He gets virtually no human supervision…’cause he just doesn’t need any. These dogs are extremely intelligent and instinctively decide if their property needs defending. Remember, he’s a guardian dog, but not an attack dog. He doesn’t go out of his way to look for trouble, but he will let the world know if he senses any. He has the most awesome bark in the dog world and uses it to warn off any predators. Honest, this bark is absolutely serious! This guy will basically warn off ANYTHING that may be a threat, but if necessary, the fur will fly. You see, their bite force of over 700 psi is the most powerful in the entire dog world!! Pit bulls, German shepherds, Dobermans are all well below 300psi.
Anatolian Shepherds are also one of the fastest really large dogs. No, not the speed of a greyhound or a cheetah, but faster than any other livestock guardian you’ll ever come across. These amazing dogs save the cheetah by “encouraging” them to stay far enough away from the livestock to keep the farmers happy. And happy they are since the program has been over 90% effective where it’s been implemented. Cheetah are essentially non-confrontational so there are no fights or direct conflicts. And, just a side note… in recent years many Anatolian Shepherds are now working on farms and ranches all over the U.S. and Canada (no, not to protect our sheep and livestock from cheetah, but from coyotes, wolves, cougars, bears and even from some of those nasty two legged creatures).
If you get the idea that I’m a bit impressed with this breed (ASD and Kangal) you are absolutely correct. However, (just like the cheetah I’m not allowed to own) these guys are definitely not a good choice for a limited-space lifestyle, especially if their exercise would come from walks and trips to the dog park. They are the epitome of a working dog and they need to have a real job and lots of property to roam and patrol.
Geez, if you take one of these guys to the dog park he’ll think he owns the joint. In a home environment they can be loving and while certainly protective, they actually have a pretty even disposition around people. That is…people they know. In fact, if you get an Anatolian Shepherd you might even consider inviting Cesar Milan over for a few training sessions ‘cause they definitely require a skilled hand to be trained and socialized. . Remember, these are definitely independent thinkers. Anatolians have become more known in North America in recent years and are now even recognized in American Kennel Club dog shows.
Well, now that you know how I feel about these guys I hope you can understand my admiration for what they do so well. I guess I’ll just have to be content to know how fantastic they are as livestock guardians and wait until I own about 100 acres and a nice big herd of 4 legged critters for him to guard. Heck…Maybe then I’ll get my cheetah, too.
“Safari Mike” Appelbaum