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Ever heard of a guard donkey? Forget Rottweilers and German Shepherds, cattle farmers in Namibia have started employing the services of donkeys to protect their livestock from predatory big cats.

These unlikely four-legged security guards are part of a successful new strategy aimed at reducing conflict between farmers and cheetahs in the north of the country.

The N/a’an ku se sanctuary has frequently lost calves during the calving season due to the large number of free-ranging cheetahs and leopards in the area.

Researchers have found that in a herd of fewer than 100 cows, just one donkey is needed to deter predators.

Florian Weise, a researcher at the sanctuary, explained that because of their acute senses and natural aggression, donkeys will chase and attack any predator that it notices coming too close to its “buddy” cows.

“Guard dogs have been employed for small livestock like sheep and goats in Namibia for a long time, but they don’t seem to be able to protect against cheetahs. Then somebody tested a donkey instead and it worked like a charm,” she said.

Herd sizes should not exceed 100 cows and the area should not be too big, otherwise the donkey cannot keep control of the situation.

“And only female donkeys can be used, as stallions have been known to injure or even kill calves when they chase them in play,” added Ms Weise.

It is hoped that the strategy will help curb substantial yearly losses incurred by farmers due to the big cats which can amount to as much as £20,000.