A Tale of Transhumance: Herding Sheep with Livestock Guardian Dogs
(Page 4 of 7)
The Kuchi also raise livestock guardian dogs, large mastiff- or Ovcharka-type beasts that move with the herds and are treasured for their ability to kill wolves, which threaten both livestock and people. The British diplomat and adventurer Rory Stewart had one of these dogs accompany him on his walk across Afghanistan, as recounted in his fascinating 2004 book, The Places In Between.
A local man who escorted Stewart through a mountainous region of Afghanistan carried a gun on the journey. When Stewart asked why, the man explained: “Six months ago on that slope on my way to vaccinate some of the sheep on that hill, I came across the clothes and then the leg of a friend who had just been eaten by a wolf in the middle of the day. Two years ago, five wolves killed my neighbor at eleven in the morning.”
Our continued legal morass of wolf management in the United States is so incredibly far removed from other people, other cultures, who live with wolves in an intimate way. Dueling interests in America have battled their disputes out in the court systems for decades, arguing whether wolves should be managed by state or federal officials, or hunted or not, with one plan and decision seemingly leading only to another lawsuit. Little of the debate has anything to do with the reality of living with wolves on the landscape.
In the twentieth century there was an exodus of humans from Europe’s Pyrenees Mountains, and large parts of the lowlands were set aside for conservation purposes, with reintroductions and expansions of populations of a wide variety of wildlife species, including large carnivores such as bears and wolves. Much of the agricultural use of the mountain region declined, and agriculturalists remaining in the area were faced with wildlife populations that adversely impacted their livelihoods but remained fully protected. Outsiders who value conservation and ecotourism over local subsistence are in effect dictating management regimes to the detriment of the humans who live there. It doesn’t seem like a good path to follow.
Coyotes are our most frequent predator, providing challenges to our livestock protection dogs on a daily basis. Although they are often seen hunting alone for small animals such as voles, mice, pocket gophers, and grouse, they also hunt in packs, especially in winter when pack size can include six or seven animals as they try for larger game. In a study conducted at Yellowstone National Park, wild life researchers found coyotes were successful in taking down adult elk and mule deer in five of nine attempts. The prey animals escaped into water in three of the four unsuccessful hunts. But Yellowstone, some two hundred miles north of the rangeland my herd and I inhabit, is an exceptional place, where the largest coyote pack ever recorded roamed one recent winter, consisting of ten adults and twelve pups. Free from human persecution or harvest, wild life populations have thrived in the park, allowing some populations to expand in size or densities unseen elsewhere.
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