Posting from Tintagel

need for herd management - predators in Europe

June 08, 2018 | 5 Minute Read

The Tyrolean coalition in Austria has declared to their government the long-term (2018-2023) support for the herd protection program, confirming the essentiality of a sustainable balance in coexistence of livestock and wildlife.[1] The balance ruling a random complex ecosystem based on prey-predator relations is an open-ended process which does not await human intervention, where an apex predator - or just a large predator if an apex predator is absent as a resident species - status plays the keystone role controlling the main prey population (directly) and prey’s food in pair with competitive species populations condition (indirectly). Ancient people used to manage herds; on areas where predators used to live, elders still possess the knowledge about effective herd protection, whereas elsewhere generally every large carnivore population was historically hunted to extinction, so autochthons do not remember how to coexist with now returning predators - wolf, bear, lynx, golden jackal - in their geographically natural environment (not mentioning that coexistence with them should be considered a natural phenomenon). The best method of protecting a herd of sheep from predators is still the one that has proven successful for thousands of years: Having a guard dog and a shepherd nearby. The dog stands in the wolf’s path and barks, alerting the shepherd. That’s the traditional way of keeping animals, and it works. - Luigi Boitani says, one of the European authorities regarding the wolf protection and coexistence with predators.

A Shepherd and His Dog at Work art by British painter Richard Ansdell (1815-1885)

Relying on the result of research on Large Carnivores in Europe[2], European Union officially identified 4 steps to solve agriculture-wildlife (large carnivores as well) conflicts.
1) proper herd management
Herd management means to manage a dairy farm, understanding the needs of the herd (animal welfare), assessing their performance and ensuring the best care it requires, considering variable seasonal factors, environmental terms and conditions (mountains or valley - habitat is different; Alps or Bieszczady - are different mountains with different plants and climate etc.), estimating possible injures or diseases. Both, Germany as a leader in fencing implementation and Switzerland pioneering in LGD practice in company of herding dogs, are exemplary countries of EU members measuring non-lethal livestock prevention methods.
2) functional damage compensation system
Support of farmers, herders and shepherders by compensation for losses due to a wolf attack is important especially when it is provided along with education about a predator meaning for an inhabited ecosystem, global importance of its appearance locally as an animal, livestock-predator monitored coexistence possibility and how to properly verify a predator as a potential culprit because it is not always so obvious. In order to support Swiss herd management, CHWOLF[3] successfully promotes effective protection measures and herd management optimization, by working right in the middle of wolf territory (i.e. Calanda region), providing financial support and appropriate education to make the rest of areas dwellers understand the need for secure herd protection, including how to behave in case of the personal contact and approach.
3) efficient communication between stakeholders
Complete plan, clear procedures - a standardarized way of proceeding, widely available, potentially adapted to specific country management. Modern shepherd can monitor the herd for diseases (vaccines, veterinary), anticipate weather changes (multimedia, internet), prevent accidents thanks to science and technology. Professional shepherd/shepherdess work (or should work) - seasonally or all year around, it depends on climatic conditions and/or plant reachability on pastures - 7 days per week, from early morning till late evening, regardless of the weather, most of the time alone patrolling fenced (or not) area, preferably with help of dogs (or at least one).
4) scientific research on damage prevention
Science and researching are in common an empirical method of new knowledge being created by observations (including scepticism, objectiveness, wariness), analyses, testing, hypothesizing on grounds of the experimental findings, cognitive advisement and everything with keeping in mind the ‘observer effect’ probability. Collecting data is statistically non-judgmental, crucial for some discussed problems solutions and most of all - relies on evidence.

Italian Landscape with Shepherd art by Jacob van der Does (1623-1673), Teylers Museum (Haarlem, Netherlands)

It was scientifically validated that managing wolf population is not associated with reducing livestock depredation, same as that non-lethal prevention methods reduce livestock losses effectively. According to Swiss on-going reports 4000-6000 animals (mostly reported from 250 000 grazing unprotected on alps) die annually from diseases, injures or weather anomalies, in comparison to 200 attacked by wolves not properly protected herds which means circa 4% of all dead livestock. There’s no wolf pack permanently settled in South Tyrol so far. An exception are 7 confirmed wolves temporarily migrating (i.e. from Switzerland). Compensations for livestock predation (of all predators in general) in 2017 there, were paid for 33 sheep (also 4 goats and 3 calves) of 25216 sheep grazing on pastures.

[1] via European Wilderness Society May 14th, 2018.
[2] European researchers identified 3 reasons of wolf killling to be allowed even if that species is protected by EU (strictly or not, depending on country member) - culling/hunting as a management tool, hunting to control large carnivores population and hunting to “increase public tolerance towards large carnivores”.
[3] CHWOLF Swiss NGO Wolf-Project organization, European Wilderness Society partner.
Large Carnivore Management Plans of Protection: Best Practices in EU Member States, 15.02.2018
Luigi Boitani, interviewed by “Der Spiegel” (Apr.30 2015)