© WWF Romania
Radu Popa, from the environmental organization Fauna & Flora International (FFI), has been involved for many years in projects dedicated to facilitating human coexistence with large carnivores. He works on the field, to promote methods of preventing bear and wolf attacks on sheepfolds and thus to encourage a more positive attitude towards wild animals. Over the years, due to the direct collaboration with animal breeders, Radu found that the most effective tandem are the guarding dogs seconded by the permanent presence of the shepherd. An additional protection measure, especially for the night, are the electric fences installed around the enclosures.
Radu is passionate about his job, hence he wants to do it not only "well", but to work in the long run. For him, the success of an implemented measure is not calculated in the years of a project, but fixed as long as it takes that things to coagulate, grow and begin to produce results.
As early as 2015, he started visiting the sheepfolds in several regions connected to the ecological corridor Apuseni Mountains - Southern Carpathians. He was in search of animal breeders interested in implementing the most efficient way the protection of sheep herds - the Romanian Carpathian Shepherd, one of the best guard and defense dogs.
Before implementing the prevention measures - electric fences and guard dogs - Radu collected data on 1. grazing mode, 2. livestock, 3. already existing guard measures and 4. data on attacks. Following field assessments, the FFI decided where the greatest damage was and where the greatest deficiencies in animal welfare were.
© Gareth Goldthorpe
© FFI Romania
© WWF Romania
© WWF Romania
So far, in two projects (LIFE Connect Carpathians and Facilitating the coexistence of large carnivores in the Southwestern Carpathians) FFI has donated 62 dogs of this breed, with special characteristics acquired throughout the natural selection along the millenia besides Romanian shepherds.
During his visits to the sheepfolds, Radu noticed that all the dogs were mixed, resulting from the crossing of various breeds, which considerably reduced their abilities.
"From what I found, no one owned a pure breed. The reason - the acquisition costs are quite high, because a Romanian Carpathian Shepherd pup costs around 300 euros. Not many people know that this breed was selected to guard, but also to defend, which are two different things. By guarding, the dog signals the danger, but the defense skills makes him go to confront, to expose himself to that danger ", explains Radu.
The Romanian Carpathian Shepherd was the first choice of FFI for several reasons.
"These dogs were formed in a geographical area with the specific fauna of the Carpathian mountains, with the carnivores here. The shepherds have empirically selected it to cope with the predators they intersect with during grazing, but also to be adapted to the climatic conditions in the Carpathian area ",
says Radu. In the past, sheep were the main source of income for the family. If there was major damage, this source of income was dramatically reduced, it was a matter of survival. That is why their interest was to have the best dogs.
The Romanian Carpathian Shepherd is a large breed, never heavy, with a lupoid appearance. The other Romanian breeds (Mioritic Romanian Shepherd, Romanian Shepherd of Bucovina) are molosoid-looking breeds. For the grazing specific in the Carpathians, the molosoid type is less efficient due to its massiveness.
Radu also shares a secret: the dog's efficiency is not proven when the predator reaches the sheep, but when the dog does not let the predator reach the area where the sheep sleep or graze.
In the first project, the FFI donated a male and a female pair for each sheepfold. But for the sheepfolds to obtain an optimal defense force as quickly as possible, in the second project they donated three dogs for each farm (one male and two females). For an efficient defence against bears and wolves, at least four dogs, but preferably six, are needed to work together.
Why are they more efficient like that?
"The wolf does not attack where there are active dogs, he conserves his energy because he has to survive. There is a saying among the shepherds - the wolf knows which dogs are good by hearing their barking. A good dog, selected for a defensive-guarding character, is not afraid. He is an alpha in his territory and goes out to fight".
The ”team” of 4-6 dogs is effective because they work in packs, like wolves, and manage to cover a larger area around the herd. But no more than 6!, warns Radu. When this number is exceeded, the dogs form two packs, and the males fight for the territory and for the females.
"Through the project we try to convince the shepherds and the animal breeders that the mating is made only within the same breed, because otherwise the dogs lose their guard and defense character".
The donation of fences and dogs is made through loan agreements, with clauses that provide that these donations be used only to facilitate coexistence with large carnivores. If the shepherds do not take care of the dogs or the fences are used for another purpose, the donation is withdrawn. Beneficiaries are not allowed, for example, to cut the dog's tail or ear or burn it on the snout, completely ineffective "traditional" practices, unfortunately preserved even today.
For Radu Popa it is very important that these dogs offered to animal breeders by the FFI be kept in a dog circuit, so as to keep the breed unaltered, and most beneficiaries to become members of Carpatin Club Romania, affiliated to ACHR (Romanian Dog Breeders Association).
To measure the rate of success, you need to be able to check what happens to the dog until he is two years old. The measurable results so far are only for the first 12 dogs offered through the LIFE Connect Carpathian project.
"Out of 12 tuned dogs, we were successful with eight (which reached four shepherds). The dogs have demonstrated their guard and defense character, the animal breeders have entered the dog circuit (they have even reached exhibitions!), And 3 of them already have kennels with the name of kennel validated by the International Dog Federation”.
For the other 50 dogs donated in the second project - Facilitating the coexistence of humans with large carnivores in the Southwest Carpathians, the results will be known later this year, but the prospects are encouraging.
Moreover, these animal breeders are become members of the Romanian Carpathian Club and they provide dogs for other projects, including LIFE EuroLargeCarnivores, currently run by WWF also in Romania. In addition, they share their experience with other animal breeders, and in the long run this increases their interest in using selected dogs.
Livestock guarding dogs defend the herd against attacks by wolves. They feel like part of the herd and settle down with the pet owner. The dogs live permanently outside and defend "their" herd against all intruders from the outside. Well-trained livestock protection dogs are no danger to walkers and hikers, but these should lead their dogs on a leash. To make this work, well trained herd protection dogs are required, which are adapted to the type of grazing by the livestock. This requires regular checks made by experienced people so that the dogs do not start to behave incorrectly.
© WWF Romania
The secret of success is a continuous monitoring and efficiency evaluation. Radu makes regular checks of the implemented measures to see how effective they are.
From his point of view, the people who use these measures are very important.
"And here we do not refer strictly to the man who is next to the sheep every day, respectively the shepherd. In order to effectively manage security measures, all organizations involved need to train people capable of managing these measures. The Romanian shepherd, regardless of the area, suffers due to the lack of specialized human resources, which leads to serious deficiencies in the management of the herd guard ”
So far, Fauna & Flora International has supported animal breeders and their coexistence with large carnivores by installing more than 240 electric fences and donating 62 guard and defense dogs. The organization also supported farmers with the necessary files to obtain compensation for the attacks, in order to encourage a more positive attitude towards large carnivores.
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