Livestock guarding puppies for large carnivore conservation

As a farmer, protecting your livestock from large carnivores tends to be quite a lonely task when there is no compensation system in place. Farmers in Hungary have recently started facing a rather new challenge. In the last years, large carnivores have been returning to the North Hungarian Mountains. As locals have become completely accustomed to their absence over the past 50 years, how they should react now to the increasing bear and wolf spottings causes a lot of confusion. To tackle this, since 2016, a program has been running in Hungary, which aims to provide purebred kuvasz livestock guarding dogs completely free of charge to livestock farmers.

The return of large carnivores

Large carnivores are returning to many parts of Europe, after their disappearence in the past few hundred years. At present, since bears, wolves and lynx are protected species, disturbing, endangering or shooting them counts as a crime under the Hungarian law, and even the damage they cause must be borne by the animal keeper. Therefore, it’s no surprise that farmers are reluctant to find all measures necessary to keep the large carnivores away.

Although until now brown bears have usually only visited Hungary with a few individuals permanently spotted in the Northern national parks, many wolves have settled permanently in the Bükk National Park and Aggteleki National Park. In order to minimize human-large carnivore conflicts, national parks are desperate to support livestock owners in implementing effective livestock protection measures. This is where the initiative started by kuvasz dog breeders comes into play.

Kuvasz Guard – large carnivore conservation program

The kuvasz is a noble livestock guarding breed, fostered by the Hungarians for thousands of years. They are very aggressive against predators, yet surprisingly gentle when it comes to human companionship. They are a beloved breed for herd protection since they don’t need any particluar training – they protect instinctively. The full title of the program is Kuvasz Guard – Large carnivore conservation program (Kuvasz Ör – Nagyragadozó Védelmi Program).

The main objectives formulated by the program are:

  • Large carnivore conservation – minimizing human-wildlife conflict in the particular regions.
  • Reinforcing the kuvasz breed and reintroducing it as an effective element of livestock protection – After a preliminary check, the livestock keepers that meet all animal welfare requirements receive purebred kuvasz puppies with a one-year contract. After a year, if they follow the requirements, the dog would become the property of the farmer. If breeding or rearing problems arise, the puppies must return to the breeder.
  • Introduction and promotion of effective conflict management measures – E.g, full-day sheperd presence, livestock protection dogs, donkeys, electric fences, etc.
  • Supporting students of wildlife biology, environmental protection, agricultural sciences and farming in finding places for volunteering, interships and research topics.
  • Research – Research on large carnivore-livestock interaction through daytime and nighttime thermal camera surveillance; wolf-guarding dog interaction ; research on the the stress response of livestock to a large carnivore attack; guarding dog-livestock interaction; guarding dog-other wildlife interaction.
  • The promotion and participation of the development of a livestock protection – prevention and compensation – scheme.

A success story

Although livestock makes up only very small proportion of wolves’ diets, each attack receives enormous media attention. This strongly influences the public’s opinion as well. According to the first results of the program, the conflicts were significantly reduced due to the guarding dogs. Therefore farmers’ views on large carnivores have shifted in a more positive direction. Moreover, a letter of cooperation between the Program and the Hungarian Kuvasz Breeding Association supports bringing back more dogs into their original livestock guarding role. A strong, long-lasting cooperation has started between the program and the Bükk National Park. The program was also recently endorsed by the Secretary of State for the Environment in Hungary.

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