Ancient traditions of coexistence of the Ukrainian Carpathians, living to this day
Location: Verkhovyna – Ukraine,
Story by: Suzanna Tymochko
From generation to generation, the locals of the Carpathians preserve the knowledge of how to live and farm near wildlife. Very simple and accessible tools helped local farmers, shepherds, and beekeepers to protect their homes and animals from carnivore’s attacks and loss of property. Interestingly, some of them are still used today.
The houses that had a fence around the perimeter were called – grazhda. It was traditional for Hutsuls (locals of part of the Ukrainian Carpathians) to build such dwellings. The house was built of wood, the yard and living area were inside, surrounded by utility rooms and barns for animals. On all sides of the farmstead were either solid walls or a high solid fence with strong gates. This design allowed to store heat in the house and premises for animals, and also protected inhabitants from attacks of predators.
Today in Ukraine we know about the only farmstead, which is still a house for living for its owners. Others are either lost or are exhibits in museums.
Lyubov Marusyak, the owner of the grazhda at the foot of Mount Ihrets (Bukovets village, Ivano-Frankivsk region), has lived here since birth. Her great-grandfather built the house in 1925 with the help of craftsmen specializing in the construction of wooden churches.
From her grandfather, Lyubov learned that below their house, as well as under Mount Ihrets, there are passages through which wolves migrate. Her grandfather said that one winter he saw as many as 12 wolves walking along the path. Lyubov also more than once met wild animals near the house – countless foxes, several times wolves, and the tracks of a large bear. One year, neighbors noticed a wolf nearby who must have been caring for wolf cubs. Then during the season from April to October, the local owners lost 14 sheep.
Grazhda, despite their age, are in excellent condition. However, the animals no longer live in barns: larger, new premises have been built for them. And the rooms in the house are still used as living quarters. In summer, many tourists come here for a tasting of bryndza (sheep cheese), which is made by the hosts, and for a tour.
PUGA. THE WHIP
It was not possible to build a strong, high fence on the mountain meadow to protect the cattle, so the shepherds used any possible methods to scare away predators. One of them is a puga – a whip or, as it is called in other regions of the Carpathians, a korbach.
Previously, weapons for protection were not widely available, so shepherds used axes, clubs, and whips. The secret of the puga is that when it clapped, it makes a sound similar to a rifle shot – sharp and loud. The tool is not large or heavy, it can be carried with you at all the time. It was made by shepherds from leather, and the handle from a wood.
You can still meet shepherds who use a puga for its intended purpose. And this whip, made by master artists from expensive material – a popular souvenir among tourists in memory from the Carpathians.
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.
Shepherd dogs are one of the oldest and most common traditional tools of coexistence. Every shepherd has several dogs on a mountain meadow. One of the most common breeds chosen to protect the herd in Ukraine is the Alabay (Central Asian shepherd dog). These dogs are strong, hardy, adapted to life in the mountains, and are trainable.
On the farm “Dubovyi Kut” near the village of Stary Mizun (Zakarpattia region) herding dogs are bred by owners. Vasyl Luchkiv says that it is very important that puppies are among the sheep from the first days and perceive them as part of their family. They are taught to stay in a group and not to leave the flock. Along with people, dogs are calm and affectionate, they can be petted. But only these dogs will hear the danger from the forest, they become real guards, loyally defending their territory. The owner explains why it is important to teach dogs not to go into the woods one by one. Because there is a risk that the dog may not return. The most common attacks of wolves on his farm occur during the period when the mother teaches the wolf cubs to hunt – from late August to October. His alabay repeatedly protected the sheep from them, and once they were able to resist the lynx.
Although, Vasyl Luchkiv is not the only farmer who uses dogs for protection. He is a member of the Association of Shepherds and communicates with colleagues, thus passing on his experience and knowledge. And in September 2021, with the support of WWF-Ukraine experts, he handed over his Alabay puppy to a farmer who lives in a neighboring region, and also plans to use this coexistence tool more.
FROM TRADITIONS TO ELECTRIC FENCING
Thus, in the Ukrainian Carpathians, some traditional methods of protecting animals from carnivores are still preserved and used – whips, herding dogs, noise means (firecrackers, bells), light and other deterrents. For greater efficiency, shepherds often combine several tools at once. However, they all have their drawbacks and require more shepherd’s attention. Therefore, with the advent of electric fences in the Ukrainian Carpathians, traditional tools have moved into the category of auxiliary.
Since 2018, WWF-Ukraine has distributed 29 electric fences to protect farms and apiaries in the Carpathians, 13 of them – in 2021. There were also 2 seminars and 2 workshops for farmers and stakeholders this year, from April to October, where WWF experts showed the benefits and opportunities of coexistence tools, and conflict prevention.
Long-standing traditions of finding peaceful ways to resolve conflicts and coexist with wildlife are encouraging locals to use electric fences. As a result, they become as common to farmers as traditional. This gives the hope for peaceful coexistence of people and large predators in the Ukrainian Carpathians.