Gone to the dogs : Comparison of approaches to livestock protection against large carnivores in Slovakia and Norway
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The use of livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) to prevent depredation is considered to be a powerful conservation strategy for the mitigation of conflicts between farmers and wildlife, and is currently on the rise worldwide. Despite all the potential of this management strategy, there are problems reported from several European countries where large carnivores reoccurred after their previous eradication. To elucidate possible obstacles for effective use of LGDs I have taken a holistic approach and analyzed different parts of carnivore-related conflicts of interest and their mitigation tools across several scientific fields. I focused on two countries: Norway, where carnivores were extirpated previously, husbandry changed, livestock losses are among the highest in Europe, and carnivore conflicts appear to be one of the top political problems; and Slovakia, where carnivores have always been part of everyday life, traditional husbandry techniques were never abandoned and livestock losses are negligible. Questionnaire surveys were undertaken in both countries with farmers known to employ LGDs in their operation, to compare differences and similarities in their husbandry practices, use of dogs and some of the factors known to play a role in the formation of attitudes towards large carnivores. Since most losses on Norwegian sheep farms are caused by wolverine (Gulo gulo), a species that does not occur in Slovakia, and since Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) causes many losses in Norway but is rarely considered a threat by Slovak farmers, direct comparison between countries was challenging. However, despite much higher carnivore densities and a longer grazing season, the Slovak respondents suffered 10 times lower losses than their Norwegian colleagues. This is most likely a result of a combination of several factors, e.g. continuous coexistence with large carnivores, maintaining traditional husbandry, and a more effective use of LGDs in Slovakia. Differences in the attitudes of the farmers themselves and compensation systems for lost sheep may also have contributed to the country-specific losses. While Slovak farmers saw little profit in sheep farming and emphasized the importance of non-financial values as a reason for their profession, farmers in Norway considered profit as the most important reason for keeping sheep. Neither the number of carnivores, nor the extent of depredation appeared to be the key driving factor in forming farmers’ attitudes towards large carnivores. With the exception of lynx, respondents in both countries shared the desire for reduced carnivore populations. I suggest the promotion of the full potential that LGDs in combination with traditional husbandry methods requires active involvement of government in cooperation with stakeholder groups in both countries. This may involve revisiting legislation and compensation process in Slovakia. In Norway, it may also require reconsideration of compensation system along with carnivore policy. Modifications of the Norwegian sheep farming system - at least in carnivore areas - seem inevitable to secure the national dual goal of having viable carnivore populations and maintaining livestock production and the cultural landscape.