Česká verze

The first experience with the protection of livestock against wolf attacks in Switzerland

30.1.2015, Carnivores.cz

Fighting the poaching and preventing conflicts between the farmers and large carnivores – those are perhaps the two most important goals of current conservation efforts aiming to encourage the return of large carnivores to their original habitats. Unlike in our country, where there is currently no systematic government support of preventive measures against damage to livestock in the areas with the occurrence of large carnivores, in Switzerland, experts are now evaluating the first five years of experience with different systems of livestock protection.


Until the end of the last century, nobody in Switzerland was concerned with the protection of livestock against the attacks of large carnivores. There was no need given the extermination of wolves and bears over the past centuries. With the steady arrival of wolves back to the Alpine valleys, the cases of damage to livestock have become more common. Swiss authorities have responded by gradually introducing a system of preventive measures.

The priority in Alpine regions was to find appropriate preventative measures for small to medium sized herds (in Swiss conditions this means 100-450 sheep) which were the most affected by wolf attacks. For the Swiss, livestock farming at this level is either a leisure activity or, in some cases, a part-time job. Only a very few villagers are fully dependent on this source of income.

To evaluate the introduced measures, Swiss experts selected the area in the north-west of the country. That is where the first female wolf appeared in 2009 and caused significant damage to unprotected herds (see the map). As a response, Swiss authorities aimed to implement such measures in the area, which would protect even the smallest herds while requiring the minimal changes to the system.

During the subsequent four years, the experts recommended individual preventive measures to all the local farmers tailored to specific requirements of their herds and the location. Based on the location and the level of risk it was also possible to access financial support for the implementation of such measures. The use of protective measures, however, was not mandatory; it was always up to each farmer’s decision. The main recommendations included the use of two breeds of shepherd dogs: the Maremma Sheepdog and the Pyrenean Mountain Dog. In some cases, it was possible to integrate up to four dogs into the herd. On the other hand, the farmers were not using protective electric fences. In some areas, these measures were accompanied by the change of the management system: large pastures were divided into smaller units and fenced. Herds were then grazing alternately in these smaller areas. In one case, the position of a permanent shepherd at the pasture has been established.


A Maremma Sheepdog (left) and Pyrenean Mountain Dog (right)

After five years, the results of observation seem quite clear: in the years 2009-2013, the number of protected herds increased from 1 to 10 and, conversely, the number of unprotected herds went down from 17 to 8. The effectiveness of the measures is supported by the fact that while there were 18 wolf attacks on the unprotected herds (the total of 153 animals taken down), there were only 5 cases (15 animals killed) in the areas with the protective measures in place during the reporting period.

Experts have pointed out a clear correlation between the number of attacks and the presence of shepherd dogs: the more dog guardians there were in the herd, the less successful wolf attacks occurred and they caused smaller damage. The presence of a shepherd or the changes in the use of pastures (alternate grazing system), on the other hand, did not appear to have any positive role in protecting the herds from the attacks of wolves.

There is a significant added value of the research for the Swiss conservationists: they now have arguments and the clear evidence proving that the effective protective measures exist. This was also confirmed by one of the farmers we visited two years ago during our study trip. He had four shepherd dogs for seven years, raised them himself from puppies, and, unlike his colleagues who did not own dogs, he experienced no major troubles with wolves. These are the arguments that the local conservationists now take to farmers in other areas to challenge their reluctance and mistrust – the same they faced at the beginning of the research five years ago. At the same time, they now need to answer new questions. The crucial one is: how will the proposed measures work if there is an increase in the number of wolves in the area and their strategy changes to hunting in packs.





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