Farm Management

Guardian dogs could be the best way of managing wild predators

Wild predators such as big cats, wolves and dingoes kill livestock in many parts of the world.

Eradicating predators from areas where people and livestock live is usually done through lethal means, but now there are non-lethal methods that are proving to be more effective.

Professor Chris Johnson from the University of Tasmania, will explain the advantages of using non-lethal approaches over lethal methods to predator control to protect livestock at the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) national conference.

According to Professor Johnson, lethal control has three main drawbacks.

“Lethal control often fails or is short-lived. Strangely enough, in many cases killing wild predators is followed by increased attacks on livestock because the removal of local predators leads to rapid immigration from somewhere else.

“Another setback is that many large predators are now rare and can provide important benefits to the ecosystem and biodiversity. Large predators can also help to keep numbers of wild herbivores down that may have otherwise damaged the habitat in larger numbers,” Professor Johnson said.

“Lastly, and more importantly, lethal control of large predators can be unacceptable on welfare grounds, especially when killing by poisons which can cause prolonged suffering.”

Methods of non-lethal management include shepherding, fencing, deterrent devices, stock-husbandry practices and livestock guardian animals.

Professor Johnson says that these methods have been proven to be more consistently effective than the lethal control of predators.

“The method that shows the most promise, based on effectiveness and cost-benefit suitability to Australian conditions, is the use of guardian animals such as donkeys, alpacas and dogs, especially the maremma sheepdog.

“Guardian dogs have also been shown to provide benefits beyond their primary role of reducing losses of livestock, reducing stress and improving temperament in sheep. So, as well as preventing their animals from being attacked, guardian dogs could produce better overall welfare and improved production of the livestock they protect,” he said.

Guardian dogs may also provide direct protection to wildlife species which was the case for fairy penguins at Middle Island, on the Victorian coast.

”Regular patrols by dogs deterred raids on the island by foxes and lead to the recovery of a population of fairy penguins that had been on the point of distinction.

“We’re likely to see an increase in the use of guardian dogs in place of lethal control of predators in livestock production, and possibly in wildlife conservation. The result of this should be better systems of animal management on farms, improved viability of livestock production, improved animal welfare, and more effective conservation of native species,” Professor Johnson said.

Source: AVA

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