07 April 2011 by Julienne du Toit

A Gentleman in a Spotted Coat

I had the honour of meeting Chewbaaka the cheetah when travelling Namibia in 2003 and again in 2005.

He and Dr Laurie Marker of the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Otjiwarongo clearly had a very special relationship. Chewbaaka posed for me at her bidding. I came away with the clear impression I had met a true gentleman - one with a loud purr and a spotted coat.

A few days ago I got the sad news that Chewbaaka had died. He’d been kicked by a rabid kudu who leapt into his enclosure and kicked him so badly he died from his injuries.

But Chewbaaka’s legacy will live forever, and it has spread well beyond the borders of Namibia into the furthest reaches of South African farms. He and his companion, an Anatolian shepherd dog called Koya, convinced hundreds of small and large farmers that using these dogs to protect livestock was far better than using gin traps, poison and guns to kill predators.

Anatolian shepherd dogs are put in with sheep or goats when they are puppies and they grow up feeling part of the flock - and are fiercely protective of their charges. They chase away leopards, cheetahs, lynx and jackals - and allow predators and prey to carry on living. You can now buy predator-friendly beef from Namibia thanks to this principle.

As Dr Marker wrote in her ‘obituary’ to Chewbaaka, “He convinced men who had killed cheetahs all their lives to put down their guns and work to protect this fascinating animal.”

Whenever I see a flock of sheep or goats in South Africa, roaming about with an Anatolian shepherd dog protecting them, I know that the farmer is conservation-minded, and that indirectly, we have Dr Marker and Chewie to thank.

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