With an MSc in Biodiversity Conservation and a background in plant science, Sarah is keen to get people excited about botanical conservation.
How many and what type of livestock were killed or injured in the most recent attack by wild animals?
How many hectares of crops were lost in the most recent attack by wild animals?
Wolves predating sheep and wild boar raiding crops may seem a world away, but back in 2015 these questions were included in surveys conducted across households in rural communities living in and around the Zarand Landscape Corridor, which provides a safe passage for wildlife moving between the Western and Southern Carpathian Mountains of Romania.
To build a better understanding of the local perception of wild animals – primarily bears, wolves and wild boar – Fauna & Flora International (FFI) asked livestock owners, shepherds, crop farmers and beekeepers about their experiences of human-wildlife conflict.
Where once these species were able to move uninterrupted across Europe’s landscapes, the spread of human populations and accompanying development have transformed the continent into smaller, fragmented patches of habitat, with large-scale infrastructure, intensified forestry practices and loss of traditional agriculture restricting movement across large areas of former wilderness.
New roads fragment landscapes, restricting the safe movement of wild animals. Credit: Lizzie Duthie/FFI
With less high-quality habitat available to them, large animals are forced to head towards human populations in search of food, which can spell disaster for both wildlife and people. Human-wildlife conflict occurs across the world in areas where continued habitat loss is driving large animals capable of causing serious damage closer to communities, and Europe is no different.
In 2013, however, with financial support from the European Union’s LIFE programme, FFI saw an opportunity to offer some respite for Europe’s largest populations of brown bears and grey wolves – and the communities living alongside them. The Carpathian Mountains are a critical refuge for bears and wolves and the Zarand Landscape Corridor, which includes 17 Natura 2000 sites (an EU-wide network of nature protection areas), is a priority for FFI.
The region is undergoing rapid development, putting traditional rural practices under threat from land abandonment and intensifying agriculture, and road development is further segregating the landscape into smaller, detached islands. This poses a serious threat to the large mammals that rely on this rapidly disappearing habitat connectivity to support seasonal migration and large range requirements.
Baseline surveys in 2015 provided a first glimpse of the scale of the problem in the Zarand Landscape Corridor. The results spoke for themselves: on average, farms experienced around 15 human-wildlife conflict events per year, with resultant damage having significant negative impacts on household income. Wolf attacks on sheep and wild boar demolishing crops were the main issues reported, understandably leaving farmers with strong negative attitudes towards these wild animals.
Based on these findings, damage prevention measures, including electric fences and livestock-guarding dogs, were introduced to farms in key areas across the corridor. After seeing promising initial results, the approach was rolled out over the following years across the landscape. To date, 238 electric fences and 62 Carpathian sheepdogs have been distributed across 249 farms.
Electric fencing secures maize crops. Credit: LCC Project
These measures have proven to be highly effective at protecting farms when used correctly. One shepherd who received both dogs and fences said, “The amount of damage has decreased during night time, thanks to the electric fence. And we also have an economic benefit from the use of dogs. They are very good and they have reduced the damage we have during pastoral season up in the mountain area.”
Livestock-guarding dogs protect sheep from wild carnivores. Credit: FFI
Alongside damage-prevention measures, FFI, in partnership with the Gendarmerie and local partner, Asociația Zarand, established an intervention team to respond to dangerous incidences where bears may threaten people or livelihoods. Comprising rangers, a wildlife vet and Gendarme Mountain Units, the intervention team has so far responded to 105 potentially dangerous incidents involving wildlife, safely relocating bears that find their way into communities and releasing bears from snares, which are deployed illegally across the landscape.
Removing an unauthorised snare. Credit: IJJ Hunedoara
The intervention team also supports farmers who suffer damage to their livestock and crops to access financial compensation. This combined effort of offering a means of prevention, responding to incidents as they happen and providing compensation is having real positive social and economic impact across local communities, with farmers now more tolerant of large carnivores:
“Before the measures were implemented we used to have problems with large carnivores more often and it was hard at night having to sleep with the flock and pay attention to every movement. Now we are more relaxed,” said a shepherd who received electric fences and livestock-guarding dogs.
Our work is not done, though. We continue to support farmers within the Zarand Landscape Corridor and across the broader Southern Carpathians, complementing the ongoing efforts of the intervention team to respond to dangerous incidents. We hope that this will, in time, enable people and wildlife to once again live alongside each other in one of Europe’s last large carnivore strongholds.
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