Livestock Prevention and Compensation program

“The Wolf Full-the Lamb Alive”

This program is one of FWFF’s activities to cope with Man/Predator conflict.  The Livestock Prevention and Compensation program is one of FWFF’s most important and successful programs to date earning recognition from many quarters including the Whitley Fund for Nature who awarded Emilian Stoynov, FWFF’s Chairman, a very prestigious Whitley Award in 2007.  Watch video here

The damage a wolf can do, is no surprise people resort to desperate measures to protect their livestock

The man/predator conflict is a huge problem in Bulgaria. Farmers suffer attacks from a wide range of species including Bears, Wolves, Jackals, Lynxes and feral dogs and many livestock are lost as a result. In fact of the 20,000 livestock owners in the project area 60% said they had lost an animal to predators in the last 3 years and 45% said predator attacks are a continuous problem.

Unlike Western Europe in rural areas of Bulgaria many individuals usually only have a handful of sheep or goats (2-6, but sometimes more) which are then herded together as a cooperative under either a rotation of owners or a single paid shepherd. If just one sheep from a flock is lost it can be a devastating blow to the owner as it can mean 30% or more of his animals are lost and as he isn’t breeding the animals just using them for their milk and meat they are not easy for him to replace as the cost of a sheep in Bulgaria is about the half as the average monthly wage and about the average national monthly pension.

With this knowledge it is easy to sympathise with the farmers and understand why they resort to the illegal practice of placing a poisoned bait to kill the predators in a desperate attempt to protect their animals. Sadly the results of this action are devastating to the populations of many predator species like the Bear, Wolf and Lynx as well as scavenging species such as Vultures and Eagles who die from secondary poisoning after eating the poison baits.

On the picture a poisoned Golden eagle – the cost of illegale placing poison baits

After seeing the devastation that these illegal poison baits caused FWFF decided to act to save the predator species of Bulgaria and most importantly for FWFF the scavenging raptor species which die from secondary poisoning.

FWFF initiated an innovative livestock compensation program that aimed to reduce the man/predator conflict and create a win-win situation for both man and the predators. At the moment the programme is active in SW Bulgaria where it will have a positive effect on the wildlife in Rila and Pirin National Parks and adjacent territories and in along Balkan Mountain. These areas are important biodiversity reservoirs and traditional predators’ refuges.

 

The compensation works by directly replacing the livestock the farmers have lost to predator attacks with animals from FWFF’s own herds. FWFF first started the program in 2002 and since then it has built up 5 mixed herds of sheep and goats from which the replacement animals are taken.

But FWFF does not just compensate the farmers and leave it at that. We insist that farmers must first put an effective system of defenses against predators before they can be compensated. This includes supervising the flock at all times when out of the barn, providing effective guard dogs and having a secure place to keep the animals at night. In fact 90% of farmers don’t meet the criteria for immediate compensation and it is through the incentive of compensation that FWFF has managed to encourage farmers to better protect their flocks.

Even if a farmer does not meet the criteria for livestock compensation FWFF helps in other ways. By working with insurance companies FWFF has promoted the insuring of peoples livestock against predator, a practice that was very uncommon before the program started. FWFF often donates these policies to farmers who do not meet the full compensation requirements which is again a further incentive to improve their defense systems as the insurance policy demands a minimum level of protection from predators.

FWFF and the insurance companies often insist that dogs are used to protect the herds from predators as a team of good guarding dogs like the native Karakachan breed is best defense against all predators but the bear. But these dogs are very expensive and hard to acquire after becoming nearly extinct under the communist regime.

So another way FWFF helps to reduce the man/predator conflict is by providing Karakachan dogs free of charge through our Guarding Dogs Programme to the most badly affected farmers. We give full training and advice on how to properly rear the dogs so they become effective guard dogs as unfortunately this has become a lost skill. We also try to only provide male and female pairs to farmers so that in the future they can breed and provide Karakachan dogs for the rest of their communities.

The Karakachan dogs are provided as puppies so that they can be effectively trained by their new owners

By reducing the chances of livestock being killed through improving defensive measures and by compensating the livestock that are killed FWFF has created a climate where the number of livestock that is lost to predators is now seen as acceptable. This is great news as it means the people are now far less inclined to use the illegal poison baits which is of course what the program aimed for.

FWFF also distributed thousands of information booklets as well as hundreds of posters to educate people on the plight of the predators.

But this program must continue indefinitely to permanently change the peoples attitudes towards the predators so that they can begin to live in harmony with them and not have to resort to poison baits. We believe the only way this can be done effectively is by using the state.

One of the big frustrations livestock owners used to have was that the predators were protected yet the peoples livestock was not. If a predator killed their sheep the state would not help but if the owners placed a poison bait to solve the problem then they were breaking no less than 3 laws.

Since 2006 FWFF has been working with the Municipality of Strumyani to make the compensation program an official state organ, at least in this one locality. FWFF gave advice to the municipality about applying for funding for the project and under FWFF’s guidance they were successful. Since then FWFF has begun training the municipality in the methods of the compensation program as well as training them how to train the farmers themselves in protecting their livestock effectively.

As part of this new stage in the development of the program it is hoped that electric fences will start to be donated to farmers to protect their barns on an evening and also to allow Bee-keepers to protect their bee hives which will reduce the conflict between this group of individuals and bears further reducing the use of poison baits.

So far this program has been extremely successful in reducing the man/predator conflict and reducing the use of illegal poison baits. But FWFF is not going to stop now. Even in the program area we have a long way to go before the use of poison baits is completely eliminated and nationally the situation is still much the same as it was in SW Bulgaria when the program started.

We aim to expand our program over the entire country sometime in the near future once the appropriate funding has been found and eventually it is hoped that the program will become an institution of the state and will continue indefinitely into the future.

Only once the use of poison baits has reached a near non-existent level can the conservation of globally threatened raptor species such as all 4 vulture species and the Imperial Eagle start effectively within Bulgaria. This is what we eventually aim for, the restoration of healthy populations of all of scavenging and predator species within Bulgaria.

In the period 2006 – 2008 FWFF has:

  • Directly helped 155 farmers
  • And indirectly helped over 1000
  • Directly compensated 64 sheep
  • Directly compensated 35 goats
  • Donated 45 shepherd dogs which will in turn breed and provide even more dogs for the local community
  • Provided 56 insurance policies free of charge
  • Provided invaluable advice to farmers on how to protect their animals
  • Distributed thousands of leaflets and posters to educate the local people about the effects of using illegal poison baits
  • Won one of conservations most respected awards for its work on the project, the coveted Whitley Award
  • Made the compensation program an official operation of one municipality

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