The wolf-human conflict has been going on for decades if not centuries. All over the world, the issue has evolved into a polarised political and societal topic, with a constant focus on the problem, not on the solution. Thus, today, we decide to actively communicate about the many solutions that exist to allow for coexistence. Livestock protection is as facetted as the landscapes of our planet. Besides protecting the animals from predators it also brings many other benefits for the livestock itself, the farmer, and biodiversity.
Let’s talk about livestock protection instead
Human-wildlife-livestock conflicts are as old as livestock keeping itself, and so are many protection measures. Protecting livestock is the only measure to permanently keep conflicts at a low level. This is often easier said than done. Because effective livestock protection depends very much on the conditions on site and requires usually additional workload for the animal keepers. But how does effective livestock protection actually look like?
In the low lands electrified fences have proved to be particularly efficient for protecting livestock. As wolves tend to dig under instead of jumping fences, it is particularly important that the lowest strand has a maximum distance of 20 cm form the ground. In order to keep electrical voltage in the strands high, the fence needs to be thoroughly grounded. Also, electrical fences should have a height of 120 cm. This can be done through fixed or mobile fences, depending on the preferences of the farmer and conditions on site. Livestock guarding dogs can also be used. On high alpine pastures or wide grazing areas, fencing is often not feasible due to difficult terrain large territories. There, livestock is protected by shepherds, rangers, or cowboys and livestock guarding dogs are the best solution. But as always, pictures say more than a thousand words…
Livestock protection measures in areas where the wolf and other large carnivores have been eradicated for decades has broadly been given up. This means that mostly also the knowledge about how to implement effective livestock protection has been lost. Additionally, the often time and money intensive practices are usually not included sufficiently in state subsidy schemes.
Because of this, it is even more important that all parties involved, may it be farmers, scientists, environmental organisations, tourism agencies, or other stakeholders, work together to reach a common goal: the protection of livestock. Fortunately, this goal comes with many other benefits that makes it easier, at least in theory, to work together. Livestock protection works also potentially for other common predators, like foxes or the golden jackal. On high alpine pastures, unguarded animals often get lost or fall off cliffs. This is something that can be avoided by the presence of a shepherd or shepherdess.
The work of a shepherd also allows for many other advantages too, for example better control of animal health and targeted grazing. The preservation of alpine pasture management and with it the preservation of functions and ecosystem services, is eventually something that concerns society as whole. Because without alpine pasture grazing, grazing areas, habitats for rare plant and animal species and erosion control are lost. The importance of these functions will even increase in times of climate change and species extinction.
Let’s communicate different in the future
So, in the future, let’s focus on all the benefits livestock protection has to offer and direct the conversation to it. Especially on societal and political level, it is of utmost importance that, instead of focusing on the problem, we communicate the solution. As multi-facetted as it might be. Only like this we can coexist with nature. So let’s not talk about the wolf anymore, because only like this commonalities of all parties can be found. Let’s talk about livestock protection instead!