A shepherd who is not afraid of wolves
Location: Mykulychyn – Ukraine,
Story by: Bohdan Popovych
Bohdan Popovych has been a shepherd for over 35 years. He grazes sheep in the highland meadows from May to September, and also makes traditional bryndza (cheese) according to an ancient recipe. Wolves caused him the most problems at his work: they attacked sheep and could kill several of them at once. Some other owners would have already “took up the gun” but Bohdan Popovych solved the problem with an electric fence. He believes that sheep breeding in the Carpathians is not only a preserved tradition or craft but also a way to protect the meadows from decline.
IN THE MEADOW FROM MAY TO SEPTEMBER
The end of September for shepherds in the Carpathians is traditionally the time to return from the mountains. At this time, the hosts sum up the “season”, and simply put – count the profits and losses. After all, as the shepherds themselves say, today it is more profitable for a local resident of the Carpathians to look for a job outside the village or to earn money on tourism.
Attacks by carnivores are not the main reason why it is unprofitable for shepherds to graze cattle. However, the losses are considerable. After all, the cost of one sheep is on average 50-100 euros, and cows are 6-10 times higher. For example, in one attack a wolf can kill a dozen sheep, or even more. And there may be several such attacks during the grazing season. Losses are shared by both shepherds and animal owners, for whom these animals are sometimes the only source of income.
Large carnivores, especially wolves, can be found in the Lisnova meadow, where Bohdan Popovych grazes cattle, so conflicts often occur. In addition to wolves, bears and even lynxes can do harm and take away cattle. Cattle owners and shepherds are not happy with the losses, and this sometimes prompts them to kill a wild, rare animal. There are those who simply leave farming or sheep farming because it is not profitable. However, there are those who are looking for ways to live peacefully with carnivores in the same area.
For almost 40 years of sheep breeding, Bohdan Popovych has tried different methods – from traditional “grandfather’s” to more modern. Unfortunately, the effect of them was small. The shepherd estimated that in 2018 he lost more than 30 sheep because of wolves.
THE SPIRIT OF THE CARPATHIANS
Sheep breeding in the Carpathians is part of the local culture and a guarantee of preservation of other crafts and traditions, such as cheese-making, weaving, local cuisine, etc. The Carpathian region is famous for these products, they attract tourists, which helps to develop local green business. In addition to preserving traditions, sheep farming is also useful for preserving the biodiversity of mountain ecosystems. Unfortunately, the current mountain meadows in the Carpathians are decreasing from year to year because of reforestation.
This is a bad sign, because sheep provides a number of ecosystem services. In particular, regulated grazing is one of the active forms of nature protection. This contributes to the preservation of alpine ecosystems – certain rare species and habitats. One of the reasons why they are disappearing today is tree invasion. Therefore, the restoration of nature-friendly traditional forms of management can also have a significant environmental impact.
Electric fences are an important foundation for protecting herds. Through the painful contact, the predators learn to stay away from farm animals. We recommend a fence system with five taut wires, at least 90 centimeters high and with a minimum voltage of 2,000 volts. It is important to remove the grass under the fence, since otherwise the electricity is permanently discharged. Holes made by lynxes and badgers must also be removed, as otherwise the wolf uses them for digging through. Some vendors specialize in fences that are very easy to assemble and disassemble mechanically – they are particularly suitable for mobile use.
HOPE FOR SUPPORT FROM THE STATE
Support programs for local farmers can be an important element in mitigating conflicts between humans and large carnivores. In particular, the introduction of a system of state insurance and compensation for damage caused by rare carnivores – bears and lynxes. As well as the necessary subsidies for the purchase of preventive tools for coexistence with large carnivores – electric fences and herding dogs.
“Experts of WWF Ukraine analyzed the current legislation and prepared proposals for its changes. These proposals will create a mechanism of compensation and subsidies for farmers such as Bohdan Popovych. They will be submitted to the subcommittee on forest resources, wildlife, natural landscapes and nature reserves. And this is the first step necessary for Ukrainian parliamentarians to consider and adopt these changes to the legislation,
– explains Bohdan Vykhor, Wildlife manager, WWF-Ukraine.
Bohdan Popovych has no plans to leave the sheep farm yet, despite the fact that in recent years his flock has become much smaller – from more than a thousand to less than three hundred sheep. He continues his work. Today, his flock of sheep is guarded by an electric fence provided to him by WWF Ukraine. And this tool proved to be effective – after installing the fence, the shepherd had no more losses in the past two years.
“The fence is installed in a day. I installed it myself. The wolf can’t approach my sheep now. In general, no one can approach the sheep unit – no horse, no cow, no dog. And now we sleep peacefully all night”,
– tells Bohdan Popovych.
The only thing that upsets him today is that young people no longer want to be shepherds or keep cattle. This is hard work and often not profitable. Traditional cheese-making is also declining, chemical additives are replacing old-fashioned recipes. Bohdan hopes that the situation will change for the better if a system of compensation, insurance and subsidies for farmers and shepherds like him works in Ukraine. Because without sheep and bryndza-cheese made in the mountain meadows, he can not imagine the future for the Carpathians.