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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Sign the Petition for resilient forests


90 signatures

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.


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