Brown bear cubs. Picture: Ruben Portas

by Robin Meadows

When wolves and other large carnivores threaten people and their livestock, wildlife managers often resort to killing these predators. But now there’s hope for a nonlethal solution to controlling carnivores. New research shows that movement-activated guards with strobe lights and sound recordings can help keep wolves and bears away.

“High-technology devices are much more expensive, complicated, and limited in effectiveness than a single bullet from a high-powered rifle, but they also allow a predator to live — surely the goal of conservation,” say John Shivik of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center, and Utah State University in Logan; Adrian Treves, who did this work while at Conservation International in Madison, Wisconsin, and is now at the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bronx, New York; and Peggy Callahan of the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, Minnesota. This work is part of a six-paper special section on the conflict between people and carnivores in the December 2003 issue of Conservation Biology.

Conflicts between people and carnivores are rising as people spread into remote habitats and as large carnivores recover from past eradication efforts. Whereas wildlife managers often address these conflicts by killing “problem” animals, this runs counter to conservation efforts and could impede the recovery of rare carnivores. “To promote the existence and expansion of large carnivores, conservation biologists should assist with the real problems predators cause,” say the researchers.

To help find nonlethal ways of controlling carnivores, Shivik and his colleagues did two experiments to see if movement-activated devices could deter predators from feeding. First, the researchers compared the predators’ consumption of road-killed deer carcasses before and after treating them with movement-activated guards. This experiment was done on wild predators including wolves and bears in northwest Wisconsin. The carcasses were replaced regularly, the pre-treatment and treatment periods ranged from roughly a week to a month, and the movement-activated guards had strobe lights and recordings of 30 sounds, including yelling, gunfire, and helicopters.

In the second experiment, the researchers compared wolves’ consumption of sled-dog chow before and after treating it with movement-activated guards. This was done with captive wolves at the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, Minnesota, and the researchers determined how much of a one-kilogram portion of sled-dog chow the wolves ate in an hour.

Both experiments showed that the movement-activated guards deterred the predators from feeding. In the experiment with wild predators, the movement-activated guards decreased the consumption of deer carcasses by about two-thirds (from roughly 3.3 to one kilogram per day). Similarly, in the experiment with captive wolves, the movement-activated guards decreased the consumption of dog food by about three-quarters (from roughly 0.8 to 0.2 kilograms).

The movement-activated guards have some drawbacks: they do not keep the predators away completely, and they are too costly and complicated to be feasible for many wildlife managers. Even so, movement-activated guards are still promising. “Nonlethal approaches to managing predation…provide a means for conservation biologists to target areas with high predation levels and increase acceptance of large mammalian predators,” say Shivik and his colleagues.

Shivik, J., A. Treves, and P. Callahan. 2003. Nonlethal techniques for managing predation: Primary and secondary repellents. Conservation Biology 17(6):1531-1537.


Coyote control measures impractical for farms

While the coyote catalog might seem like a practical solution for both landowners and hunters, there are unintended consequences that result from using lethal control measures on coyote populations.

My husband and I run 300 mother cows that calve in pastures alongside coyote packs and other predators. We use only non-lethal livestock protection methods and I can’t remember the last time we lost a calf to predation.

I am also on the advisory board of Project Coyote, a national coalition of ranchers and scientists working to foster coexistence between people and wildlife.

The prophylactic killing of coyotes might make ranchers feel like they are doing something to protect their livestock, but numerous studies have proven the exact opposite to be true. Coyotes biologically respond to hunting pressures by having more pack members breed, and in turn have larger litters in which more pups survive.

These packs that are fractured by hunting also leave juvenile coyotes orphaned, and thus more likely to come into conflict with pets and livestock.

Furthermore, we now know that while killing coyotes might offer short-term relief in terms of their numbers in certain areas, it also creates a vacuum in which the newly opened territory eventually draws new coyotes in to fill it.

This creates the endless war between wildlife and ranchers that has been waging for decades at untold cost to taxpayers, ranchers, wildlife and the environment.

There are many effective, non lethal methods available to protect sheep and cattle. These methods are being used successfully around wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions, on ranches from California to Northern Alberta and everywhere in between.

Livestock guardian animals, lambing pens, range riders, electric fencing, running sheep and cattle together, and fladry are just a few of the options available to ranchers. These methods, or sometimes a combination of them, lower and often eliminate conflicts with predators.

This allows the development of a stable coyote population which, studies show, manage their own numbers quite well. They also provide a free, eco-friendly pest control service to those lucky enough to live within their boundaries.

If left alone, coyotes might also eliminate the need for the other catalog system that is now being used to control deer numbers.

As consumers become more educated about the effects their food choices have on the environment, the spotlight is on the ranching industry to prove we have the ability to be responsible stewards of the land. By forcing consumers to choose between our livestock and wildlife, we only succeed in creating more vegans and vegetarians.

The livestock industry needs to change the way we treat predators and other wildlife, not only so we can improve our reputation with the public, but because it is the right thing to do.

Editor’s note: Hendricks owns and runs Bar C R Ranch with her husband in Petaluma, Calif., and is an advisory board member of Project Coyote.

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Fladry as prevention tool to avoid damage on livestock

Fladry is a line of rope mounted along the top of the fence from which are suspended strips of fabric or coloured flags (usually red) that will flap in a breeze, intented to deter wolves from crossinf the fence-line. Fladry are a temporary but efficient prevention method to avoid damage on livestock  in small pastures as this footage shows.

Wolves – especially older, experienced ones – are often very skeptical of new things in their environment.  For some reason, they don’t like those flags rippling in the breeze.

Part of fladry’s success, it seems, is that it is a new object that causes wolves to become frightened of passing it. Past studies have shown that fladry can be effective in field trials for up to 60 days before wild wolves cross them (Musiani 2003).

Please share this post because reducing livestock conflicts is a large part of the key to increasing social tolerance for large carnivores. Click here to access People and Carnivores Fladry Manual via Dropbox.

Source and more information about fladry:

Musiani, M., C. Mamo, L. Boitani, C. Callaghan, C. C. Gates, L. Mattei,  E. Visalberghi, S. Breck, and G. Volpi. 2003. Wolf depredation trends  and the use of fladry barriers to protect livestock in western North  America. Conservation Biology 17(6):1538-1547.

This scientific paper is available by clicking HERE.