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Don't kill the coyote, just confuse him a little PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 09 January 2004 05:50

Christian Science Monitor: Traps. Fences. Poison. Ranchers have tried everything to keep predators fromtheir livestock. But guard llamas? At Thirteen Mile Ranch near Belgrade,Mont., llamas have kept watch over the sheep for a decade. The result: Nolosses from coyotes - the bane of sheep ranchers.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0102/p15s01-sten.html

Sci/Tech > Environmentfrom the January 02, 2004 edition

Don't kill the coyote, just confuse him a little

By Tim King | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

Traps. Fences. Poison. Ranchers have tried everything to keep predators fromtheir livestock. But guard llamas? At Thirteen Mile Ranch near Belgrade,Mont., llamas have kept watch over the sheep for a decade. The result: Nolosses from coyotes - the bane of sheep ranchers.

"Our llamas have developed some kind of an understanding with a local andfairly stable coyote pack," says Becky Weed, who runs the ranch with herpartner, David Tyler. "They know the ropes, and we know the ropes, and Ithink they understand that we don't bother them. We like to have them aroundbecause they hunt gophers."

Increasingly, ranchers in the US and abroad are turning to such naturalmethods - from aggressive donkeys to strategic herd movement - to safeguardlivestock. Those methods mean ranchers seldom have to kill predators. True,the predators they save aren't particularly endangered. And the productsthey market as "predator friendly" sometimes fetch a premium. But theimpetus behind the wild-farming movement seems to run deeper than that. Itsmessage: Ranchers, livestock, and large predators can coexist.

"People farm with the wild because they deeply care about the land as theirhome," says Dan Imhoff, author of a new book, "Farming With the Wild." "Ithas economic value, but it also taps into life's biggest questions. Why arewe here? What is our place in the community of all species?"

Consider Will Holder, an Arizona rancher whose friends call him the "CattleWhisperer." "I'm with my cattle every day," he says. "If you spend enoughtime with them, you can tell by the way they are acting that a lion hasmoved into the area."

When cattle signal that a lion or a wolf is near, Mr. Holder moves cattle.It sounds simple, he says, but compared with the conventional approach toranching, day herding represents a radical departure. "The traditional wayof managing cattle in the West is you kind of kick them out into a pastureand don't look at them for about four months," says Holder. His family sellspredator-friendly beef at premium prices under the Ervin's Natural BeefCompany label in Tucson and Phoenix.

But cattle left to their own devices develop deadly habits. "Predators needto get comfortable with a situation and feel like they are going to besuccessful," he says. "By always moving the cattle, predators [stay] offbalance and they leave us alone."

Other ranchers who raise beef for the Ervin's label use a variety oftechniques to keep mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, and bears off balance.One rancher used strips of bright orange marking tape tied to a fence.Another uses aggressive guard donkeys to chase them away.

"The reason ecolabels work is that they give producers a way to tell theirstory," says Janelle Holden of the Predator Conservation Alliance ofBozeman, Mont. "People won't necessarily buy a product just because it'spredator friendly, but it does make someone unique enough to highlight theirproduct in the market."

Besides relying o­n guard llamas, Ms. Weed and Mr. Tyler also keep an eye o­ntheir sheep. To assure that coyotes aren't tempted to prey o­n new lambs, theThirteen Mile Ranch lambing paddock was placed within sight of the ranchhouse. The result of their strategy is that no predators, or livestock, havebeen killed at their ranch or Holder's for years.

Farming with the wild isn't limited to the US. In Canada, the CentralRockies Wolf Project works with ranchers to keep wolves and livestock apart.In Namibia, the Cheetah Conservation Fund has given hundreds of farmersguard dogs. The dogs keep cheetahs and leopards away from the farmers'goats. And in India and Nepal the Snow Leopard Conservancy has developed apredator-friendly livestock project in concert with Himalayan goatherds.

Much like at the Holder ranch, the solutions are simple. The conservancyworked with farmers in six areas to develop leopard-proof corrals. Theresults have been dramatic. "With each corral we can save up to five snowleopards from being killed in retribution for livestock losses," says theConservancy's Rodney Jackson. No livestock has been lost.

The Conservancy is now working with villagers in Ladakh, India, to turntheir new leopard stewardship into an economic plus. A village homestayprogram, www.Himalayan-homestays.com, was launched in the 2003 trekkingseason. So far, it's drawn mainly European tourists, eager to glimpse therare leopards.

Learning to coexist with predators also helps create an environment morecongenial to other wild creatures. For example, by moving his cattleregularly, Holder says he's seen a revitalization of native grasses, whichhelps small animals. Holder and his wife, Jan, have also helped with thereintroduction of (endangered) Mexican wolves in the area close to theirranch, located in New Mexico near the border of Arizona's Gila Wilderness.

"When I was growing up I hated ranching because it was just this brutal wayof man against nature," Holder says. But "I enjoy this kind of ranchingbecause it's more of an intellectual challenge."

Last Updated on Friday, 09 January 2004 05:50
 

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