Cats and Dogs
Perspectives On Line: The Magazine of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

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Ange and Crosier look after the nutrition of the dogs and the reproductive health of the cats. (Photo by Eric van Heugten)






















































Cats and Dogs: Cheetah conservation work is combined with efforts to maintain the good health of dogs who guard livestock in southwest Africa's arid bush country. --- By Art Latham
The bark of an Anatolian Shepherd dog, pictured below with Dr. Adrienne Crosier, is enough to keep livestock safe from this cheetah (above), the subject of Crosier's studies in Namibia.  (Photo by Kimberly Ange)


ornate letter The relentless sun sets on the dry, scrub-dotted, mile-high Waterberg Plateau in the southwestern African Republic of Namibia, and wildlife near Dr. Adrienne Crosier’s compound makes itself heard.

As the cool night breeze stirs the acacia trees, jackals sing their weird, yowling complaints. Baboons bark, sounding like human coughs, and kudus – large antelopes – also bark, sounding like a hoarse dog. And out in the bush, an Anatolian Shepherd dog’s bark overpowers them all, signaling that it’s on the job, protecting the native people’s sheep and cattle herds from marauding predators.

So familiar to Crosier are the night noises around the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s (CCF) research center in the Waterberg Conservancy that she misses them if it’s quiet.

Crosier’s primary job as a post-doctoral fellow is collecting cheetah semen samples for the Smithsonian National Zoological Park’s Department of Reproductive Sciences. But as she pursues her research, there’s one sound she hopes she never hears: that of a frustrated farmer or herdsman shooting a cheetah.

Crosier, who earned her B.S. and Ph.D. in the Animal Science Department in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, enjoys her work and Namibia, home to the world’s largest known cheetah population, as well as the world’s largest Feline Immunodeficiency Virus-free population.

“The overall reproductive physiology project is going very well,” she says. “We’ve conducted 55 procedures on both cheetahs and leopards to date, with 12 of these on wild-caught animals.”

Crosier, whose study focuses on different ways to freeze and thaw cheetah sperm to increase post-thaw efficiency and viability, primarily works with the delicate but demanding task of enhancing cheetah sperm quality following cryopreservation, all in the field.

But not long after beginning her two-year in-country stint a year ago, Crosier recognized a problem.

The CCF and the Livestock Guarding Dog program give local farmers Anatolian Shepherd dogs to scare off the cheetahs that prey on animal herds.

The Anatolians, says Crosier, are large dogs with a loud, aggressive bark. They stand their ground between their herd and any potential danger but do not run or chase, which would trigger a cheetah’s hunting instinct.

“Another reason the Anatolians work so well,” she says, “is they are placed with the sheep or goats from the time they are 6 weeks old. It is key that the dogs bond extremely closely with their herd. The dog has to always want to be with the herd and protect it day and night.”

But the Namibians sometimes feed these dogs poorly because they don’t understand the importance of a proper dog diet and usually can’t get or afford dog food. CCF has even taken dogs away from farmers because the animals were poorly fed.

So Crosier contacted animal nutritionist Kimberly Ange, her friend and colleague in the College’s Animal Science Department. Ange teaches companion animal and other courses.

Crosier and the CCF hoped Ange and her husband, Dr. Eric van Heugten, an assistant professor of animal nutrition in the College, could obtain high-quality dog food. Ange contacted Dr. Bill Schoenherr, a former N.C. State professor who’s now head nutritionist for Hill’s Pet Food, which makes Science Diet. Hill’s donated more than 1,000 pounds of dog food, which arrived at CCF in time to feed one of this year’s litters.

In June, Ange and van Heugten traveled to Africa to observe and document the project. The puppy food had arrived, the pups had flourished, and all of the most recent litter was placed.

“Animal science involves all animals, from cattle to cheetahs to dogs,” Ange says. “People in all aspects of animal science benefit from projects like this.”

This chapter in the Smithsonian’s cheetah project book had a happy ending, but Africa offers plenty of other challenges.

“The livestock-guarding dog program,” Crosier says, “is just one of the ways that CCF works with farmers to help reduce the loss of livestock to predators, including the cheetah.

Cheetahs (above) and herdsmen with livestock (below) co-exist more effectively, thanks to the efforts of Crosier and Dr. Eric van Heugten and Kimberly Ange (left). (Photos by Kimberly Ange and Adrienne Crosier)

“The biggest challenge is the lack of education of people that live with the cheetah on their land every day,” she says. “School children are one of our biggest targets for education on the plight of these animals in the wild. We also work very extensively with farmers in the area to both educate them about the cheetah and to encourage communication with CCF and other conservation groups.”

“Another project,” says Crosier, “the Cheetah Genome Resource Bank, includes the establishment and maintenance of a frozen repository to warehouse biological materials including sperm, skin, serum and, hopefully in the future, oocytes and embryos. This work hedges against unforeseen disasters, such as disease, that could unexpectedly threaten the cheetah population.”

Preserving genetic resources in a systematic collection contributes to the future biological and genetic viability of many endangered species, she says.

Crosier collaborates with the Cincinnati Zoo on another ongoing CCF project. “We look at estrus synchronization and induction in young female cheetahs,” she says. “To do this, we use fecal hormone analysis and daily behavioral observations. We need to know if female cheetahs display normal estrus cycles if they are housed together in such places as zoos. Normally, females in the wild would live completely on their own unless they have cubs. But in zoos they are often housed together, which may suppress normal reproductive cycles.”

While Crosier’s specialty could be viewed as exciting, she doesn’t necessarily recommend it for everyone.

“The field of research in endangered species is small and very competitive,” she says. “Funding is limited for both the variety of ongoing projects and those needed in the future. I would tell anyone who wants to pursue a research career in this field that a combination DVM/Ph.D. degree would best qualify them. Also, they have to be willing to travel and move around a lot!

“One of the biggest challenges to me personally is communication. It took me quite a while to get used to very limited e-mail and phone and no Internet access, not to mention no library. I have to rely on my colleagues, family and friends to help find information I normally could easily access.

“Living in Africa,” she says, “has been the most wonderful experience of my life. It is hard to imagine doing this kind of research anywhere else other than where the cheetahs live.

“The people involved in this project here at CCF are some of the most dedicated I’ve ever met. They are willing to give up just about anything for themselves to help save the cheetah and its habitat.”


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