Eurasian wolf in Poland - livestock-predator coexistence

The wolf is a wild predator - a carnivore. Cows, sheep are herbivores - a potential predator’s prey. More so, they are domesticated animals, dependent on humans (farmers) at the cost of primal survival instinct no longer granting them safety in their natural environment. The farmer is therefore responsible for their welfare, who in turn, since the dawn of time, has shared - willingly or not - hunting grounds with wolf packs (also by cutting down forests for settlements and agriculture). There should be an agency to which shepherds, for example, can turn with their specific problems. Germany can benefit from the experiences other countries, like Italy, Poland and Romania, have already had - Luigi Boitani says[1] to “Der Spiegel” right after wolf was spotted nearby German village.
The Polish wolf as a species is under strict protection since 1998. In accordance to the law it’s forbidden to kill, injure, capture them, to damage wolf dens and to take their offspring away, same as to deal wolf fur and skin. The exceptions are situations where a wild wolf is captured if injured / diseased, or a healthy but lost animal is relocated from people’s neighbourhood to its natural habitat (to the forest). Wolves live in family packs consisting of a leading parent pair and their last-2-years offspring (+ sometimes temporary unrelated pack members), counting usually 3-8 animals. Pack territory can reach from 150 km2 (mountains) to even 400 km2 (plains), considering the forest as the preferred ecosystem. Pointing to the data collected by the Association for Nature “WOLF”, around 12 000 migrate today through Europe, where their local population on the Polish territory doubled/tripled to above 1000/almost 1500, constantly monitored and closely researched.[2]
In the light of the general definition (and EU regulation) animal welfare should provide farm animals (including livestock) basic conditions like - food, free access to water, a shelter, medical treatment, appropriate sanitation, living space and company of related/familiar animals. One of the mandatory conditions is elimination of stress factors from the environment, so also fear and in consequence the primal need to remain aware and ready to flee (caused by fear as one of the most primal reactions associated with survival itself). Terrestrial Animal Health Code (OiE) precisely states that an animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour, and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear and distress. Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling.. Concluding, well-being - and sense of security as well - positively affects welfare of farm animals (same as companion ones).
In the case of livestock, free range plays a crucial role - for cows and sheep it takes a form of grazing on a pasture. For the sake of their welfare the farmer should use verified protection measures against wild predators or at least the basic steps like adhering to pasture rules on free range. Besides a guard dog (or dogs, it depends on quantity of the herd) - and eventually the hired shepherder - on the pasture during the day, the animals should be moved to safe enclosures/stalls nearby human homestead if not guarded by dogs during the night.

mountain sheepdogs Poland horses on the pasture surrounded by fladry /photo credit: Robert Masłajek, Association for Nature “WOLF” | two Polish Tatra Sheepogs guarding a cattle in Silesian Beskids /photo credit: Michał Figura, Association for Nature “WOLF” /

  • active prevention -> livestock-guarding dogs, herding dogs

Dog types or dog breeds predisposed, specialized, trained to
deter potential predators and watch over the familiar flock -> working independently
For example: Polish Tatra Sheepdog, Slovak Cuvac, Carpathian Shepherd Dog, Caucasian Shepherd Dog, Central Asian Shepherd Dog (which was by breed destined to protect against wolves).
help with herding the livestock on the pasture and lead them in/out of enclosure -> working/cooperating with a herder
For example: Border Collie, Australian Shepherd (American type), Australian Kelpie, Belgian Shepherd, Czechoslovakian Wolfdog (which - as a breed by FCI - is a hybrid by crossing of Carpathian wolf (Eurasian wolf) with a German Shepherd).

  • passive prevention -> proper fencing

fence net - high enough (2,5-3m), dug into the ground deeply enough (0,5m), optionally equipped with a barbed wire. If combined with electric voltage, it should have bare wire installed over the fence 1,2m high (jumping over the fence prevention) and 10-20cm from the ground outside the fence (crawling under the fence prevention).
electric fence - deterring livestock from crossing the boundary by using momentary - not life-threatening - electric shocks. If dedicated to predator excluding, it should be at least 2m high with the lowest wire 10-20cm from the ground (crawling under the fence prevention), 15cm space between the wires up to 1,5m high, 20cm space between the wires above, and the highest wire 2m from the ground (jumping over the fence prevention). Important is to make that fence visible for animals by coloured bands or cables.
installed strictly according to the rules fladry - rectagular scraps 10x60cm made of flapping material (suggested dederon) in vibrant colour (usually red), stitched to 3-4mm diameter rope at 40cm intervals where the most important is - for the scraps bottom line to freely flutter 15cm from the ground (crowling under the fence prevention), and for the rope to be tense all along.
turbo-fladry - is universal option tested in the USA[3] as a fusion of the fladry with the electric fence, which contains the lowest wire 15cm from the ground (on the fladry scraps bottom line), the next one 70-75cm high (stitched to the fladry rope), and and the highest wire placed 1m from the ground. DoW reports that turbo-fladry, increased human presence, the use of multiple guard dogs after denning season, and scare devices such as high density spotlights and alarms are highly effective in reducing livestock losses to wolves in the Sawtooth Challis National Forest.

cow shepherding Idaho USA Lava Lake sheep in fladry | Lava Lake herder and herding dogs among the sheep /photo credit: Defenders of Wildlife/

The best method of protecting a herd of sheep from predators is still the one that has proven successful for thousands of years: Having a guard dog and a shepherd nearby. The dog stands in the wolf’s path and barks, alerting the shepherd. That’s the traditional way of keeping animals, and it works. Putting giant herds outside and going home at night doesn’t work. The animals shouldn’t be that accessible to the wolf. But you can also protect herds with electric fences - Boitani says. There is always risk that a wolf would try his abilities by hunting on an unfenced, unguarded pasture or seemingly not protected farm area. That risk increases, the closer to the wolf pack territory that’s happening. It is better to be aware, that coexistence with a predator one has to have in mind its needs and physiology. Counteract against a potential losses rather than to experience them, even if compensation is guaranteed if they happen.[4] Let’s consider the Polish wolf’s main menu - there are forest ungulates (deer, roe deer, boar) mostly there, completed by other animals (hare, beaver, occasionally red fox, seldom rodents). Cows and sheep are only a mere few percent in the whole wolf diet.[5] On a whole country scale, those losses are also exiguous, even though for a single farm a per mille of them seems to be a serious problem.[6] An identification of the wolf as the culprit is sometimes hard to confirm; the place of suspected attack - including animal tracks - has to be properly prepared (identification by footprints, photographed together with surrounding area), secured (dead animal covered with a foil and pressed with stones) and validated by designated institutions (regional Directorate of Environmental Protection or national park director).
Wild wolves instinctively do not approach human settlements, contrary to stray/feral dogs or descendants of the uncontrolled cross between a wolf and a dog. However, if such a situation occurs, right after reporting the incident (after confirmation of the losses being caused by a wolf, or not) it’s obligatory to increase the livestock protection and to remove the dead animal - to prevent luring other predators, stray/feral dogs or scavengers. Moreover, extremely important is to not cart the dead inventory to the forest or near hunting grounds - to prevent luring other predators by poachers (illegal) or hunters (accidental). Open hunting on wolves in Poland is currently impossible not only because of law protection - it is officially socially unacceptable. Exceptional ‘intervention shot’ is prohibited without General Directorate for Environmental Protection permission and suggested only when relocation is unsuitable (atypical behaviour - based on observations, tendency to return - based on exact farmer’s reports).

lethals/non-lethals trendline Killing of sheep (Ovis aries) by wolves (Canis lupus) in Protected and Nonprotected Areas in public grazing allotments in Blaine County, Idaho

7 years of research on sheep herds in Idaho proved that livestock losses were 3-5 times larger in the areas where there was no protection against predators (only shooting them), than where non-lethal methods were used. Sheep grazed in large bands counting more then 2000 per band, within the confirmed wolf management zone. Those on the Protected Area were herded by shepherders in company of herding dogs by day, and guarded by shepherders in company of livestock-guarding dogs (LGD) by night. Non-lethal deterrents were implemented: fladry (Phase 1: 2008–2010), monitoring (Phase 2: 2011–2014). However, the problem is that most livestock killed by wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains of the United States are part of large, open-range grazing operations covering 4,000–40,000 ha or more. The question then becomes not just whether non-lethal deterrents can work but whether they are feasible in large landscapes.[7]
Knowledge about wildlife is very important and useful but only when it’s appropriately understood in theory, introduced by understandable education process and respectively applied into practice. The wolf species - an apex predator - is a natural element of the ecosystem, where the human settled in some time ago. Officials have only allowed wolves to be deliberately released in a single case: in Yellowstone National Park in the United States. In Europe, wolves are spreading out on their own - Boitani concludes - We were able to demonstrate this using genetic analyses. Conditions in Europe are good for wolves.

[1] Luigi Boitani - Italian biologist, lecturer at Department of Animal and Human Biology at La Sapienza University in Rome, chairman of the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe in the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the European Commission advisor about wolf protection and coexistence with predators.
[2] According to the result of nationwide (participated from Poland) wolf and lynx cataloguing (supervised by Mammal Research Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) and Association for Nature “WOLF”) - there were circa 464 wolves in 2001. According to official data by Central Statistical Office (GUS, Poland) they reached 1276 in 2014 and more than 1400 in 2016.
[3] 3 years “Turbo-fladry Experimental Project” by Defenders of Wildlife, realized in central Idaho, including 40 000 sheep in total.
[4] In Poland, compensations for farmers are distributed by the State Treasury [Skarb Państwa] - Polish representative in the field of civil law.
[5] Wild ungulates are 87% biomass of wolf digested food - raw flesh and bones. Domesticated animals are 5% - livestock (cow, sheep, goat), occasionally companion animals or just stray/feral ones (cat, dog). Trace amounts of plants occur (not influencing analysis) - wolves are typical carnivores. /averaged result, 2016 updated/
[6] Polish wolves kill locally 800-1200 farm animals yearly. In 2015, compensations for farmers in case of wolf attacks counted 3,9% of all compensations destined to protected species. For comparison - losses by beavers reached 86,4%. /Dr.Sabina Nowak, Polish Wolf Project, Association for Nature “WOLF”, according to the report by General Directorate for Environmental Protection/
[7] Adaptive use of nonlethal strategies for minimizing wolf–sheep conflict in Idaho (2017), research by collective work.
obligatory source:
“Poradnik ochrony zwierząt hodowlanych przed wilkami” [ang. “livestock protection against wolves guide”] by Stowarzyszenie dla Natury “Wilk” /Polish only/.
Spiegel online, Luigi Boitani interview by Julia Koch (science editor at “Der Spiegel”), Apr.30th 2015