Coexistence with wolves in a changing Romania

Human and wolf coexistence is a complex challenge with deep historical roots. In Romania changing farming communities, expanding national infrastructure and fragmented habitats mean that the human–wolf relationship needs ever-closer attention.

The wolf is long idolised in fairy tales but remains a reality in the lives of farming communities.

When farmers, their livestock and wolves share the countryside, conflict is inevitable. And while the amount of livestock killed by wolves is limited, a single attack can have a significant impact on a breeder’s income.

The WOLFLIFE project, covering the Eastern Carpathians, brings a much-needed scientific approach to the question of coexistence.

It looks for answers on maintaining a viable wolf population and supports farmers and shepherds in managing coexistence with the species. Its recent documentary ”Wolves: from conflict to coexistence” offers an excellent illustration of the challenges and solutions at hand.

“This is the first time in Romania where an action plan has been made for the species”, explained Mr Silviu Chiriac, project manager from the Romanian Environmental Protection Agency. Having the support of the national ministry is a significant boost, he added.

Isolated but still under threat

Romania is home to some of the largest populations of Europe’s large carnivores including wolves and bears. WOLFLIFE estimates the country’s wolf population at around 3 000 individuals.

These live mainly in the Carpathian Mountains, an isolated and protected region. More than 25% of Romania is designated as protected area, including as Natura 2000.

Yet despite this level of protection, the wolf faces many threats including

  • habitat fragmentation as roads and infrastructure expand
  • habitat reduction because of illegal logging – which the government is cracking down on
  • poaching and illegal hunting
  • infectious diseases from large numbers of stray or abandoned dogs

Tracking in the mountains

A national action plan needs data on wolf behaviour, and this means covering a lot of ground.

The WOLFLIFE team has covered 5 500km on foot across pilot areas of 9 000 – 12 000 acres recording the presence of wolves. To help locate packs, project teams used tools including remote camera traps (watch on Youtube) and audio recordings of wolf calls which packs respond to.

Genetic analysis

Gathering genetic data from droppings (known as scat) is critical to achieving an understanding of where and what wolves hunt. Data gathered by the project shows that livestock is very low on wolves’ diet in the region. Samples show

  • wild boar – especially piglets – as a primary food source
  • roe deer as a major food source, mainly in hilly areas
  • domestic and stray dogs account for 4-12% of kills
  • sheep and goat account for below 5% of kills

Protection methods for sheep farmers

As farm structures change, traditional sheep farming methods are starting to disappear. One difference is that sheep farmers have larger flocks with greater numbers of shepherd dogs, made up of new breeds not traditionally used for the job.

The WOLFLIFE team set up a breeding programme of Carpathian livestock guarding dogs – a traditional breed best suited to protecting livestock from predators.

Pairs are offered free to encourage shepherds to employ these specialised dogs rather than more common breeds. “Shepherds are very happy because these dogs really make a huge difference,” said Mr Chiriac.

Farmers are also given support to set up electric fences for their livestock. Combining protection dogs with electric fencing is key to successful flock protection.

This approach has also been tested in other parts of the EU by another LIFE project, EUROLARGECARNIVORES.

Vaccination programme

Wild dogs are also a significant threat to wolves because they carry disease. With many dogs abandoned in the region, the WOLFLIFE team set up a neutering and vaccination programme for stray dogs.

It also developed an awareness-raising campaign to demonstrate the damage caused by abandoned dogs.

Compensation available

At EU level, farmers will soon be able to receive compensation for damages caused by protected animals like wolves.

Under a November decision by the European Commission, EU countries can claim 100% compensation for farmers, including for indirect costs such as treatment of wounded animals.

Investments made by farmers to protect their livestock – such as building electric fences – are also covered.  This move will reduce farmers’ incentives to kill wolves and other protected animals around their farms and support coexistence.

Lähde: Environment – LIFE : News

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