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How dogs can protect Snow Leopards
My enemy is now my friend
It is a female snow leopard and her cub that a group of villagers in the extreme northwest of Pakistan is watching huddled together with expressions that show a mixture of awe, admiration, and affection. This is the first time they are having an experience with a snow leopards at a very personal level. When asked how he feels after watching the animals, an elderly villager expressed his thoughts: “This is my enemy, but no now this is my friend”.
They were watching a video being shown to them by wildlife conservationist Nisar Malik, who was visiting them after hearing the news that a snow leopard killed one of their sheep.
Denizens of Himalayas, Karakorum, and Hindukush mountain ranges of Pakistan, snow leopards are extremely rare felines and when they get into a conflict with humans, it has dire consequences. Being top predators, they prey on Markhors (wild goat), but if their prey thins out, they descend to lower valleys and try to feast on livestock.
This means that they have picked a war with humans and this is not good at all. A snow leopard may win a battle by taking away a sheep one day, but then it is starting a losing war.
So how do we save snow leopards from preying on livestock and putting their own lives in danger? Well, conservationists all over the world are finding a new relationship with our best animal friend – the dog – to achieve just that. Through the stories below, I am suggesting that similar initiative can be taken to indirectly protect the beautiful snow leopards in the higher mountain ranges of Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bhutan.
1. Anatolian Shepherd Dogs for protection of cheetahs
In Namibia, Anatolian Shepherd Dogs (ASDs) are effectively saving endangered cheetahs from being killed by the local farmers and cattle and sheep grazers. This is how it works. When cheetahs leave their wilderness and intentionally or unintentionally cross into land where humans graze their livestock, they try to make an easy meal of goats or sheep there. In retaliation local men kill them.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund breeds and provides ASDs to these local people for guarding their livestock. Now if a cheetah sneaks in, it is confronted by these vicious large size dogs. No cheetah will want to get into this dangerous confrontation and will return to Savannah to hunt its natural prey. The results show that the number of cheetahs killed by humans has drastically dropped ever since ASDs have been employed for livestock guardian duties.
Details of the story can be found here:
2. Maremma Shepherd Dogs for protection of penguins
Middle Island is a tiny spot of land off Warrnambool, Victoria in southern Australia. This island has recently come into the headlines of a major conservation effort regarding the endangered Fairy penguins living there. At one time 5,000 of these defenseless birds used to live in a colony on the island. However, by 2006, only 10 penguins were all that remained. Culprit? Island predators, as William Stolzenburg mentions in his recent book ‘Rat Island’, foxes and dingoes.
The Warranambool City Council received $15,000 in grants from Powercor Corp. and a local governmental Authority to fund an innovative conservation project. Two pups of Maremma sheepdogs, a beautiful white furred livestock guardian dog breed, were brought in and introduced to the island and the penguins. The Maremmas quickly developed a bond with the penguins and succeeded in keeping foxes and other predators away ensuring that bird population could recover. Today, the penguin population has increased to at least 80 adults and 26 chicks.
Details of the story can be read here:
3. Stray dogs for protection of Sunderban tigers
Tigers look beautiful when they are in zoos, but Sundarbans man-eaters kill 50 people every year, mostly when the villagers enter the forests for daily living. Tigers are top predators of Sunderbans. However, older, sick tigers, who are unable to hunt their natural prey, find that humans and their livestock are easier to take. This brings them into confrontation with humans and with that the balance of power changes against tigers.
Many tigers have been hunted down by villagers in retaliation. It is estimated that only 300-500 of these gorgeous cats survive in their historical stronghold of Sunderbans.
In order to deter the prowling tigers from fringes of human settlement, stray dogs in Bangladesh are being trained by Conservationists Monirul Khan and Adam Barlow from ZSL (a conservation organization).
The principles at work here are ‘Alert system and intimidation’. By training a number of stray dogs, Khan and Barlow are expecting that the stray dogs will raise an alarm when they feel a tiger is approaching a village enabling the villagers to quickly seek safety. In addition, the dogs, being greater in numbers and quicker, can harass a tiger to the extent that it leaves the area. Thus, an unnecessary confrontation between tigers and humans is avoided. Monirul Khan and Adam Barlow have found that the stray dogs from the same litter are more defense-aggressive and reliable as guards against tigers of Sunderbans. This is an innovative approach to tiger conservation.
4. Dogs for protection of bears
British Columbia, Canada probably has highest concentration of black bears per square km in the world. It is common to find bears foraging for food in the dumpsters near human settlement. Bears are a smart animal and will enter homes for raiding on food items stored in kitchens. The two ways to discourage bears from doing that are ‘relocation’ and creating, now proverbial, ‘fear factor’.
For relocation, bears are tranquilized and then dispatched to a wild region far away from human settlements. In this scenario, a minor issue is that these bears are able to find their way back. A bigger issue is that the relocated bears ‘feel lost’ in the new environment. They have no knowledge of dominant males and females in the area, and of food and water sources. It goes unreported, but researchers have found that most of these bears die without possessing this knowledge essential for survival.
A better way to discourage bears from approaching human settlements is to set dogs on them without the intention of injuring or killing them. This is what a more popular practice is in US state of Montana and Canada's province of Alberta. Usually Coonhounds or Karelian Bear Dogs are used for this purpose. However, any other hound breed can be used as long as they are able to work in teams and harass the bears into treeing or fleeing away.
To summarize, what happens here is this: a bear approaches a human settlement. It gets chased by humans and their dogs. It gets treed by faster and quicker dogs. It is let go with a hope that it has learnt its lesson. A bear is never killed. Teaching it a lesson for its own benefit is the primary purpose here.
The villagers in the northern mountains of Pakistan need assistance in protection of their livestock and in protection of 'their' snow leopards. And helping them use livestock guardian dogs is a feasible option.
The high mountain ranges of Asian sub-continent have their own dog breeds that can be trained to protect livestock and keep snow leopards away. For example, one of the breeds found in the extreme northwest of Pakistan is the Vikhan Sheepdog, also known as Chitrali or Pakistani sheepdog. This breed can be trained and put to work straight away, as can be more accessible Bakarwal dogs from Kashmir region. Alternatively, livestock guardian dogs capable of working in mountainous terrain can be imported and put to work. Given that stray dogs are also common near these mountain villages, they can be a much better bet for training and guarding the livestock.
A bigger challenge may be obtaining the buy-in of the villagers on using dogs for protection of their livestock. This can be done through training seminars and through involvement of other communities, such as Gujjar community, who already uses livestock guardian or companion dogs. Indeed, the Gujjars migrating to the lower valleys with their flocks of sheep being guarded by livestock guardian dogs make a captivating scene that has been captured by many a professional photographers.
In short, we need to protect snow leopards for our future generation.There will be nothing more abhorable than to see the only surviving members of this beautiful animal in the zoos and wildlife parks or, worse still, showcased in the museums.