Tuesday 27 October 2015

In the media

Some time back, I did an interview with Anna Larrson Berke for a Swedish Article on being Wildlife Friendly.
I did notice that once the article had been published, I had a number of Swedish people sending me Facebook Friends requests!

I finally, got to see the end product and Anna kindly translated it for me, a few typos and a few small errors, but overall an interesting read.

To read the Swedish version please follow this link:

So, here is the English Version:
 by: Anne Larrson Berke

That the Swedish debate about wolves does not primarily revolve around practical problems and solutions, but instead about differences in values and faith in the authorities, is evident when one visits wildlife rich Canada.

WildSmart - Knowledge and involvement
Along the roads of Bow River Valley, between the prairies of Alberta and the Rocky Mountains, signs informs that these are WildSmart Communities. Here residents and local businesses, cooperate with wildlife researchers, hunting-, and nature conservations organisations, in an effort to diminish conflicts between people and wildlife. What is now a growing non-profit movement, began about 10 years ago when the Grizzly bear was severaly threatened. Tourism, road works, the logging industry, cattle ranches and farmlands, put man and the Grizzly on a collision course. The killing or relocation of individual bears further diminished the bear population but did not diminish the conflicts. So instead work began on developing methods of prevention. Those strategies have now been adapted to deal with Cougars, Coyotes, and Wolves.
The prevention has four parts: To lower the risks for both people and animals, to increase the residents knowledge about the nature they live in, to increase the researcher’s knowledge on how people and animals can live side-by-side, and To share the responsibility of Wildlife management on a practical level with the residents. To have the residents included and be able to feel a sense of responsibility for their surroundings, is key for the success of the WildSmart-programme. The people living in these communities help observe, reports sightings and cooperate to keep the neighbourhood clear of possible sources of conflicts. They clear vegetation around trails and gardens to remove hiding places and to give animals a retreat if they do happen to wander in near buildings. They get together to clean off all berries around schools and playgrounds. They follow strict rules regarding waste management and BBQ. Lately much focus has been put on how dogs and cats move around in the areas and if it is possible to change these habits. The residents also help in creating wildlife corridors and areas that are not welcoming to wildlife. One area is made unwelcome with the use of smell, sounds, patrols with people and dogs etc. Other wildlife corridors are made completely off-limit to people.
Bow River Valley is on the border of one of the world’s oldest national parks, Banff, where around 4 million tourists visit each year. Kevin van Tighem is the retired park supervisor. Over the 30 years he worked for the park, until now, he sees a marked change in the resident’s knowledge as well as values or norms, thanks to BearSmart or WildSmart. And he is pleased to see that the residents share this knowledge with the visitors. -Of course there is always risk for a backlash, he says, but the situation seems stabile. When two cougars recently killed several dogs in the area, the response was not quite what one would expect. Instead of the usual aggressive outbursts, people were simply sad. Perhaps because the residents had warned each other about the cougars on the community Facebook-page, and reminded one another to keep the dogs leashed. It seems that the residents now know that these tragedies are fairly rare and above all, that they themselves can prevent them.
Kevin, who has described the recovery of the Banff wolves in The Homeward Wolf, says that the wolf in these parts is seen as the lesser threat since they avoid moving around in populated areas the way that bears, cougars and coyotes do. In fact, in the Banff area more people are injured from meetings with Elks, than of predators. And unlike in Sweden, the hunters here do not regard the wolves as competition or a threat since they do not hunt with dogs the same way as the practice is in Sweden. The fact that the authorities here still allow about 10% of the wolves to be killed each year, is something Kevin sees as a pandering to the US hunting tourism. Price money is given per killed wolf and both snare, trap and poison is allowed. One reason given for the size of the quota is that the wolf is a threat to the recovery of the threatened Caribou. Others blame the oil sands for the Caribou threat. Kevin and others like him would rather increase the wolf population, among other reasons because unlike human hunters the wolves are able to detect and target the Elk and Mule deer individuals by CWD.

Predator friendly sheep farmer
The people who have settled in the Bow River Valley, have done so aware of the wildlife in the area and many of them makes a living on tourism generated by the nature and the wildlife. But even cattle owners, who might be assumed to regard predators as a more direct threat to their livelihood, can see things differently when they become more involved. Louise Liebenberg and her husband Verstappen runs a sheep farm in central Alberta. Louise grew up on a farm in South Africa. She met Eric in the Netherlands where they owned sheep and used Boarder Collies for herding. They got their first cattle guard dog to protect their sheep from off leash dogs. On the new farm in Canada they always have about 5-6 cattle guard dogs with the sheep. These dogs are raised with the herds and are very protective of them. -They are long term deterrent, not just when something happens and that gives a peace of mind, feels Louise. But the dogs are only one part of the couple’s comprehensive wildlife management plan, now the farm is even Wildlife Friendly-certified. -A coyote spends the whole day studying your behaviour, so we do the same, says Louise. She and Eric constantly change their routines. They walk or ride around the property every day to leave their scent and to check on their cattle. They learn about the predators living in their area. -Cougars prefer heights, wolves prefer wooded areas and to hunt from larger herds rather than smaller, etc. They create protective boundaries by clearing shrubs, boulders, felled trees and do not place vulnerable animals in predator terrain. Dead animals are removed immediately and buried far from the cattle to avoid that the smell attract predators. Electrical fences, sounds and lights are used as deterrents. They have also adapted their animal management to deter predators. For instance have they changed lambing to the indoors in winter time when the predators do not have young of their own to feed or that have to practice hunting. The sheep need grazing about 8 hours a day so they are taken out in morning and afternoon shifts of 4 hours each and either Louise or Eric often stays with them throughout and use herd dogs to move them quickly. At night sheep and goats are kept indoors and larger cattle are kept in pens closer to the buildings.

A feeling of control
In Louise’s mind, protective methods are cheaper than the cost of damages by predators, since it is often not only a matter of a single killed animal but also stress that increases the risks of aborted lambs and reduces fertility. And when predator attacks do start, they are hard to stop. Louise feels that the killing of a predator is nothing but a temporary solution. Predators will always be a factor, unless we kill them all and change the whole eco system. When one predator is killed there is usually a competition over that animal’s territory. So instead of one bear, we might have several in the area for a while, says Louise, who is critical of the damage compensation paid to farmers who have not taken any precautions. In five years, she and Eric has only lost three sheep to predators, while one of the worst affected neighbours have lost almost 50% of their lambs. - A wildlife management plan should be as essential as a business plan or fire management plan, says Louise.
In a different part of Canada, in southern Ontario, there is no WildSmart Community. The sheep owners in these parts have a more emotional and negative view on predators than Louise and Eric. Mark Ritchie’s farm is on an island so the losses to predators depends on how many of them are still left after the ice breaks. He says he has to accept a loss of 2-3% but his limit is 5%. He has gotten himself a couple of herd guard dogs and the losses seems to have diminished a bit, but he also feels that the dogs means lots of extra work. The main predator in these parts are the coyote and these are quick learners. it happens that one of the dogs are lured away from the herd and the remaining dog cannot stand against  a few coyotes alone. He has received funding for electrical fences, but he also keeps sheep’s on leased land that he is not allowed to fence in. He keeps his sheep out at night and unlike Louise and Eric his lambs are born outdoors, outside in the spring. On average he loses about 50-100 lambs per season. When mark describes the way the coyotes bite until the herd has stopped moving, as cruel and a waste. In Marks mind the authorities have left the cattle owners to deal with this issue on their own with little support or compensation.

Values and emotions
Both Mark and Louise and Eric, have about 1 500 ewes and might have about 2 200 lambs per season. In comparison, most of the 13 000 sheep farmers in Sweden have no more than about 200 ewes each and the loss to predators from these are less than 1%. Since the replanting of the extinct wolves in Sweden, we now have at most 350 individuals per year. In the province of Alberta alone, which is slightly larger in size than Sweden and Norway put together, there are 6 000 wolves, and tens of thousands of black bear and coyotes. So why is the debate about wolves in Sweden so emotional and hateful?
-What makes wildlife management so difficult is that it is about values and emotions, says Jens Karlsson at Grims√∂ Viltskadecenter. He has worked with wildlife management for over 15 years and does research in Big predators and methods of deterrence. There is plenty of financial aid and guidance on offer for cattle owners in Sweden but despite this, and the knowledge about predators and wildlife disseminated by organisations like WWF, SNF (the Swedish Society for the Conservation of Nature), Rovdjursf√∂reningen (The Swedish Organisation of Predatory Wildlife), and the Rovdjurscentret De 5 Stora (The Big Five), the wolf is still met by huge resistance. The Lynx and the almost 3 500 brown bears in northern Sweden is not seen as nearly a big of a problem. Perhaps because they live in the North and are popular game for hunters. The attitudes towards predators have in the past 5-6 years become of interest for researchers in various fields, such as environment psychologists, sociologist, ethnologists, etc. The difference in attitude seem to coincide with differences in people’s socioeconomical background, education, where they live and their interests. Other sources of resistance can be found in the emotional attachment part-time farmers and hunters have with their animals. -Rein deer owners, who more often suffer attacks and may lose up to 50% of their calves, are often more pragmatic when I talk to them, than southern farmers who may never even know anyone who has had animals lost to predators, says Jens. Some people see the wolf as a symbol, something that has been forced on them by politicians and environmentalists. -The wolf was gone for a long time, hunted to extinction, and now that it has been reintroduced, one cannot even hunt it, it is not seen as a common resource.
© Anna Larsson Berke, Januari 2014

Thursday 22 October 2015

Guard Llama's

Do Llamas really work as flock guardians? 

Let me start this blog off with a big “I DON’T KNOW”.
We do not use llamas for our flock protection.

I have done a fair amount of reading on them and the little research  I have done,
 does indicate they do play a role in keeping sheep safe.

I have read reports that some llamas  are effective, and I have read reports saying they are marginally effective to totally ineffective.
I think the jury is still out on this one.

This website:  http://buffalocreekfarmandcreamery.com/farm_llamawhychoose.html  states:
 “Over half of the llamas guarding sheep are 100% effective. An additional 40-45% of the guard llamas are highly effective while only 5-10% of the guards were ineffective.
Large predators such as bears and mountain lions may be too large or aggressive for the llamas. However, llamas have been known to alert herders of large predator attacks.
No training or previous association with sheep or goats is required for the llama to be an effective guard.
Any age llama, except those under one year, have been proven to be effective at the time of initial introduction.
Intact males are effective guards along with geldings. Females are also very aggressive toward canines. However, there have not been many studies using only female llamas.
One llama per flock is more effective than two or more llamas. Several llamas tend to bond to one another rather than with the sheep or goats and may ignore the flock.

Most reports do state that a number of conditions need to apply,
for llamas to be effective guardians, things like smaller flocks, open terrain, small predators, low predator pressure, only one llama per flock etc.

In a study done in 2000 (https://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/nwrc/publications/00pubs/00-45.pdf),
the conclusions indicated that llamas do provide a certain amount of protection to sheep flocks. primarily in the first year.

After reading  the various reports, I was curious to see some llamas in action.
 No better place to look than in massive crowd sharing sites such as You Tube.

I found a few videos, some very unclear, of llamas working,
two of these videos caught my eye.
One from the Swiss folks (https://youtu.be/SX5GvhIF2j4)  testing Llamas in the Alps
 and another of a llama protecting a week old calf from some pet dogs (https://youtu.be/Was388eiNl0

Watching the llama with the calf, I felt that the llama was showing protective behavior, similarly to how it would protect its own young,
 however in reality,
I think that a momma cow would actually have been more effective.

The llama did stomp and chase somewhat.
I can see that a pack of coyotes or even a few determined pet dogs,
would easily overwhelm the llama.
  The Swiss video starts off by saying that none of the llamas had yet encountered a wolf, and they were not sure if they would be effective.  They thought, that  llamas may only be really effective on small (20-30 sheep) operations, but no conclusions yet, as they were still being tested.

In Alberta, it is actually fairly common for sheep ranches to have a llama or two in with the sheep as protection, often combined with one or two livestock guardian dogs.
I have spoken to people who say that the llamas do seem to be effective, until serious predation sets in and then the llama is merely, another prey animal.

I often wonder how things come to be?
 Nowhere, in the traditional livestock guardian dog countries does one see people using llamas or other camelids for livestock protection.
How did it happen that llamas were being promoted to be used as guardian animals?
Perhaps, long time ago someone had a llama, that chased a pet dog away from the sheep,
the person saw this and decided to promote llamas as guardian animals for sheep?
I don't know.
 But, it does seem strange that one would use a prey animal to guard other prey animals.
It is undeniable that a llama can bond to the sheep and will place itself in between the sheep and the predator in some cases,
 just as LGD do , and  of course most mother animals will do.
They do charge and stomp at canines,
but how effective is, this if a serious predator attack occurs?

All prey animals have similar responses when encountering a predator it is flight or fight. If the opportunity arises to flee from a predator, then most prey animals will.
If however, they are cornered and trapped, or protecting young, the response is to stand their ground and fight.
For a sheep it would mean a display of some foot stomping, perhaps a charge and a head butt.
The do not have much more in their arsenal against predators.
Their safety is really the flock.
A llama does not have too much in its arsenal either, it can stomp, kick, spit and charge.
The average ewe weighs about 160-200 lbs, a mature llama weighs between 286- 440 lbs, and other than its feet, has not "weapons" as such.
Alpaca or llama, some people advocate using alpacas as guardian animals.

When it comes to dealing with large predators, the odds against a llama succeeding becomes smaller. If ones looks at what wolves actually eat,
and what they are faced with,
then a llama is no match.

Moose,  and elk are some of the traditional prey species for wolves. The average moose weighs 1000lbs, can be as high as 2 meters at the shoulder ( 6.5 feet) has a kick that could send a wolf to never-never land, the males has an antler set that are deadly, they can stomp and charge,
and to top it all off,
 a momma moose has a bad attitude. 

An elk is incredibly fast (faster than any llama or sheep), weighs about 800 lbs, stands 1.5 m at the shoulder, has  daggers for horns ( the males), can kick, stomp, and of course charge with those antlers,
and yet,
 they all fall prey to wolves.

These animals are way better equipped to deal with predators than any llama, so it would seem reasonable to assume that a llama may not be able to protect a flock of sheep from bigger and very determined predators.

In fact, perhaps placing a momma cow with a young calf in with the sheep flock, may provide even more protection to the sheep, than a llama.
A cow will run down, stomp on, kick, toss in the air, mash down with its head, paw, pierce with its horns and charge at a perceived threat,
with 1500 lbs of mad momma behind it,
she becomes quite the protector,
and yet, we rarely hear of people using cows to provide protection to sheep flocks.

I do believe that because of the added height and size of a llama, they do have a role as a sentry. They are hyper aware, can see far, have big flexible ears
 and in that role,
 I believe that can be effective.

As llamas are not native to North America or Europe, I can imagine that a wolf encountering a llama for the first time would be flabbergasted. They would not know what to make of this animal, would be cautious to approach and would be highly suspicious of this strange animal.


A wolf or coyote may not even recognize a llama as food, simply as it has no genetic memory or imprinting telling it, that it is food.
So, the llama certainly has the element of surprise in its favor.

A friend of mine, who does not use guardian dogs, but has a llama and donkey has been suffering regular predator attacks on her sheep flock.  Almost daily, she losses a sheep. I asked her how the donkey and llama were doing and her reply was that they were not working. The donkey stands at the gate and the llama does nothing. 

I have other friends, who breed show llamas, they use guardian dogs to protect the llamas from predators.
Before, we moved to Canada, we asked fellow sheep ranchers if they felt llamas were effective, some said yes, but only with smaller flocks in open areas,
others said no they were not, but had them anyway, just in case..

It seems that people feel llamas are effective,
until the day they are ineffective against serious predators.

I am all for, whatever works.
However, I  do feel that ranchers deciding to use guard llamas,
need to have a realistic expectations of what these animals can do.

Even, in the LGD world, it is well accepted that you need at least 2-3 dogs, and preferably a few more, to have sufficient protection for a flock.
Expecting a single llama, that has no real defense mechanisms, to protect a flock of sheep against predators is perhaps pushing the expectation limit too far.

Understanding too,
that these animals may be vulnerable to predation themselves.
Putting a single llama out with a flock is putting the llama at a similar risk as the sheep it is suppose to protect..
Mini donkeys and  alpacas fall into the same category.

As a friend says; " using food to protect food is not logical".

I suppose it is like having a chocolate bar protecting the apple pie,
the chocolate may be a temporary diversion,
 but it is no deterrent if someone really wants to eat the apple pie.

So, back to llamas, the little research out there, does indicate that they may play a role, perhaps only a short term role against smaller predators in specific circumstances.
 I am all for using as many tactics as possible to prevent depredation as once the cycle sets in,
it is very difficult to stop.

So, even if they can only provide an ounce of protection, it is always more, than doing nothing!
Even, if they do not work for every situation,
they are still look pretty awesome in among a flock of sheep!

Using a combination of llama, or donkey with guardian dogs,
may provide added protection.
So, it would seem to me that llamas are definitely an option in small flocks with low predator loads,  for people who do not like or want to work with dogs or  for people who understand the limitations that a prey animal has when dealing with serious predators.
They are great sentry animals and will certainly offer some form of minimal protection, however in larger flocks, grazing bushy areas and plentiful predators, then I think, the only serious guardian animals, are dogs.

You may need to fight fire with fire.

Guardian dog on a sheep ranch in southern Alberta.

Monday 19 October 2015

Some, of the animals I encounter.

Everyday is an adventure.
I love looking for wildlife when out and about and really should drag my camera out with me more often.

A typical day includes the following wild animals:

Every day, when I see the wildlife,
it is like receiving a gift from nature.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

A weekend away

With the ranch and all the animals we have,
 it is really hard to actually go away.
It takes a lot of organization, timing and planning.
As we have not been away together as a family for a few years,
I decided to plan a "surprise" weekend away.
I knew Jess would be home for Thanksgiving and after organizing with the ladies at Eric's work, I booked a few days in a cabin in Jasper National Park.

It was rather amusing, as our family really does not know
"how to tourist".
We tried our best.
We did the traditional things like sticking our heads through painted figures,
we stopped by the road side to take photo's of all the tame elk, we sat in the giant "hot springs" tub,
we played pool in the cabin's game room and we went to some of the "sights" around Jasper.

The best thing of it all was just going for the walks together, and having the opportunity to take pictures of the kids and Eric.
Watching the kids bickering,
and eating giant brownie sundaes together is part and parcel of family holidays!

Looking for wildlife in Jasper is anti-climatic.
On an average fall day in High Prairie, I can normally see:
2-3 moose, white tails, mule deer, elk, coyotes, fox, eagles, sandhill cranes, geese, hawks, squirrels and now and again the odd bear, wolf and fisher.
In Jasper, we saw "tame" (totally habituated) elk, a mountain sheep ewe disappearing over a ridge, a few squirrels and an eagle.

I love the mountains and they make me feel in awe.
The canyons, the water falls, the views and the crisp mountain air is something I really can appreciate.
 However, I can see that Jasper in the tourist season would be like a nightmare to me.
I think, I can appreciate the "road less traveled"
a bit more.

It was fun, relaxing and a good way to spend Thanksgiving.

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