In Africa, Sending in the Dogs to Save the Cheetahs

OTJIWARONGO, Namibia, Oct. 6, 2005 — -- No creature on Earth can outrun the cheetah, but now these remarkable animals are in a desperate race for survival. There are just 13,000 left in Africa, down from 100,000 a century ago.

Dr. Laurie Marker, co-founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, has come up with a novel approach to save them.

Marker, a zoologist from Oregon, moved to Namibia 15 years ago to devote her life to cheetahs. The animals, she said, won her heart.

"Those eyes that look kind of through you. Listen to that purr which radiates through you. Watch them run," Marker said.

But what little territory cheetahs have left to run through in the country is disappearing. Much of it has been turned into livestock farms.

Cattle, sheep and goats are an irresistible, slow-moving buffet for cheetahs. So farmers kill the predators to protect their herds.

One farm worker, according to Marker, "chased down a family of cubs and grabbed this one and hit and kicked it in the head."

Introducing Natural Predators

She calls the young cub "Little Peeps." Peeps is one of dozens of cheetah orphans staying at the 1,000-acre sanctuary Marker has built. They receive medical care and food.

"As I arrived here, people wondered, 'What is that American woman doing?" Marker said.

Her efforts are giving farmers an alternative to killing cheetahs. She provides them with Anatolian shepherd dogs from Turkey. The dogs grow to an imposing size, become attached to their herds and turn aggressive when cheetahs approach.

"A cheetah does not want to be hurt, so their instinct is to run away," Marker said.

Many of the farmers have had success with the dogs and are satisfied with the project.

"We've found that it's reduced the number of cheetahs being killed," Marker said, "and farmers don't lose their livestock."

Now Marker is trying to convince farmers in other countries to use guard dogs, rather than guns and traps, to save their livestock – and her beloved cheetahs.

ABC News' Mike Lee filed this report for "World News Tonight."