There are many heated debates between agricultural and environmental organisations regarding the protection of wolves in Europe. The protection status of the wolf is decided upon by the European Commission and all Member States have to adhere to certain rules defined in the Flora and Fauna directive to enforce this protection. However, sometimes the wolves cause problems. Researchers are always exploring new ways to minimise the chance that a wolf attacks livestock. One of the most recent pilot studies is testing whether we can let wolves faint while they attack!
The traditional way of protecting livestock from predation by the wolf
Wolves that wander in search of new territories can walk up to 70 kilometres a day. The diet of wolves consist to 99% of wild animals, but being an opportunistic hunter they also do not shy away from preying on livestock. For thousand of years farmers traditionally protect their livestock with shepherds. In the last decades many farmers have started to electric fences hooked up to a pulse-generator, which sends electricity of 5000 Volts through the fence. If the wolf touches the fence, it gets this electric shock, which conditions the wolf to stay away from the livestock. Other farmers have chosen to get additional livestock guarding dogs, perfectly bred to protect livestock.
New innovative solutions
Researchers have started a pilot study in Tyrol with electric collars on sheep to scare wolves away. The idea behind the pilot is that when a predator, be it a wolf, bear or lynx, bites in the throat of the sheep, it gets an electric shock. The electric shock is not meant to hurt the predator, but rather to scare it away.
Meanwhile, researchers in Germany have started with a pilot study to genetically mix the DNA of wolves with a rare breed of fainting goats. These goats, due to a genetic disorder called Myotonia congenita, faint when they get excited. The researchers are now experimenting with gene modifcation techniques to try to insert this gene defect into the genome of the wolves. In a planned pilot study, the researchers will try to see how excited the wolves can get before they faint. But the researchers also want to ensure that this genetic modification does not increase the threat to wolves from cryptorchidism.
Fainting wolves could be the solution to livestock protection. An alternative option would be that wolves would faint when they get an electric shock, be it from a fence or an electric collar. This would require more research in the future.
European initiatives to support livestock protection
Besides the innovative research, there are also several initiatives like the LIFEstockProtect project that are helping livestock owners to increase their traditional protection measures. There are for example volunteers assisting farmers with building fences, and specialised dog breeders are raising specialised livestock guarding dogs. Furthermore, there are several projects that the European Commission supports that help the farmers to adapt to the new situations. Stay tuned for more updates!