Coexisting with Large Carnivores

Wolves are a greatly misunderstood species. One of the main threats to wolves in the wild is conflicts with humans. Most of the areas where wolves roam are outside of national parks, which often puts them in the path of humans. Many of these areas are farming communities that raise livestock such as cows, sheep or goats.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that only 0.2 percent of all livestock losses can be attributed to wolves. To put that in perspective, respiratory issues, calving/birthing complications and weather cause over 50 percent of livestock deaths.

Raising livestock is not an easy job, and any loss, no matter how small, can make a big difference. Unfortunately, this means that ranchers do not often favor large carnivores living near them. And many wolves pay the price, even critically endangered red wolves and Mexican wolves fall victim to gunshot mortalities. When working with animals on the brink of extinction, every loss is devastating to the efforts to save the species.

Wolves are vital to maintaining a healthy and balanced ecosystem — they keep prey species at a healthy population level, which benefits plants, butterflies, songbirds and other animals. Keeping prey populations in check also reduces disease in prey species (thus reducing diseases that can be spread to livestock). This is why techniques that can help farmers, ranchers and the community coexist with carnivores are so important. Some of these techniques have been successfully used for thousands of years, while others, using newly developed technology, have been successfully implemented in the past few decades. When used, these management tools have dramatically reduced human-wildlife conflicts.

Examples of tools that can be used to help coexist with large carnivores:

Fladry/Fencing: Creating barriers around small pastures and barns deters predators. Barriers can be fixed fences or fladry. Fladry uses flags that wave and move, which scares away predators. It can also be electrified.

Guard dogs: Dogs have been used for thousands of years to protect livestock. Special breeds, such as Anatolian Shepherds and Great Pyrenees, are trained from the time they are pups to protect livestock and detect if predators are near.

Ranger riders: Ranger riders, often referred to as cowboys in early American history, are hired to travel with the herds to protect and guide them when the graze. Having a human presence will deter wildlife and will allow the riders to scare away any wildlife they see come near the herd.

Telemetry: Telemetry is a newer technology that adds another tool for riders and ranchers to use. Using the signals transmitted by collars on the wolves, riders can track the pack and if the wolves get close they can scare them away with a warning shot, blow horns or make other loud noises. This is not an effective method for packs without a collared wolf, but most packs have at least one individual that is collared.

Secure Small Pens: Securing small livestock, such as chickens and rabbits in pens that are predator-proof will help protect them from raccoons, foxes, hawks, coyotes and other predators. There are many ways to secure small enclosures, including: bury hardwire under the enclosure to protect against digging animals; use fine mesh hardware cloth (instead of chicken wire); putting a deer net over top to protect from raptors; livestock guard dog; use electrified fence around the coop; use a double-lock system; raise the coop off of the ground to discourage animals from digging under it and stealing eggs; put a motion detector light outside of the coop/pen to scare away predators; train your birds, sheep, goats or other livestock to return to the pen for the night; secure all livestock from dusk to dawn.

Hazing: Hazing large carnivores, using non-lethal tools such as paintball guns, rubber bullets, bullhorns, loud noises, alarms, etc., is a proven method to scare them away from an area. Loud noises and lots of motion are scary to wildlife and healthy, normal wildlife will want to run away.

Thoughtful Husbandry Practices: Changing husbandry practices can also help reduce interactions with livestock and large carnivores. Methods such as rotating grazing areas; waiting to turn out young livestock until it is older and stronger; burying dead livestock, fencing off the carcass or treating the carcass with a taste deterrent will prevent carnivores from getting use to the taste and smell of livestock; keeping pregnant/calving females near the barn, etc. are all examples of ways to help reduce human-wildlife conflicts.

Reduce attractants: Do not let your cat or dog outside unattended. Do not feed your cat or dog outside. Not only will the food itself attract the carnivores, but also the prey that they eat, such as opossums, raccoons, rats and squirrels. Do not feed wildlife: It is bad for wildlife because they have evolved to eat a specific wild diet (and many plants rely on the wildlife to eat it too) and it will attract wildlife near human settlements, which ultimately will create human-wildlife conflicts.

Cow Graphic