Puppy power combats human-carnivore conflict in Eastern Georgia

Puppies aren’t just for Christmas – a fact not lost on the Georgian Carnivore Conservation Project (GCCP) who have embarked on a pilot programme employing canine assistance to help mitigate human-carnivore conflict in the Vashlovani and Tusheti Protected Areas of Eastern Georgia.

As an EC funded partnership between Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Georgian NGO NACRES, the GCCP team hopes the puppies will grow up to be trustworthy and protective livestock guarding dogs (LGDs), effectively protecting flocks from wild predators and feral dogs, and improving the overall quality of the current stock of LGDs regularly used by the sheep farmers.

Adult sheepdog in Georgia Credit: FFI

Active in Georgia since 2009, part of GCCP’s remit is to develop effective mechanisms to improve the conservation status of keystone large carnivores in and around the Vashlovani and Tusheti Protected Areas. Extensive surveying and research has resulted in the reintroduction of traditional sheepdog training techniques to improve the interface between local communities and large carnivores and to the enhanced conservation of the latter and improved livelihoods of the former.

Gareth Goldthorpe, Project Coordinator with GCCP, said, “There is prevalent conflict between large carnivores and Tushetian shepherds, whose cultural history is closely linked with transhumant sheep farming.”

At the end of every summer, the shepherds take their flocks from their ancestral home in the Tusheti mountains, down to the fertile lowlands throughout the region. However, decades of political manipulation, followed by the dissolution of the Soviet empire and the closing of national borders, have seen a decline in the number of winter pastures. “The majority now take their flocks to the semi-arid pastures in and around the Vashlovani Protected Areas in the Southeast of the country, exacerbating the conflict between humans and carnivores,” Gareth continued.

Sheep herding in Georgia Credit: FFI

In addition, it appears that a gradual erosion of traditional shepherding practises are adding to the problem, with poor livestock management resulting in high mortality and increased predation of sheep by feral dogs and wild predators. Gareth said, “The relatively recent decrease in the once widespread use of traditional sheepdog socialisation and training methods, producing the trustworthy, attentive and protective dogs that past communities depended upon, has resulted in an increase in the risks of shepherding in this predator-rich environment. For the carnivores, this translates into an increased likelihood of being shot or poisoned by angry farmers.”

To combat this, GCCP are facilitating the reintroduction of correct LGD socialisation methods together with international conflict mitigation experts and the recently established Human-Carnivore Conflict Response Team (HCCRT). Initially, GCCP will provide three sheep farms each with two specially selected Caucasian sheepdog pups. The project will support the development of the pups, providing food and veterinary care to them and training in the rigorous socialisation methods to the farmers. Over the coming months, the HCCRT will continue to support the farmers, ensuring that the dogs are being raised and trained in the correct way.

As Gareth surmises “Although it will be at least two years before real benefits are felt, the hope is that the six trial dogs will prove to be such good LGDs that other farmers will realise the importance of using these methods and will agree to receive training from our HCCRT team”.