WCS Argentina recently delivered a new litter of specially trained livestock guardian dogs that work directly with herders to reduce conflict with pumas (Puma concolor) and other native carnivores living on the Patagonian steppe.
The dogs watch over herds of domestic goats and sheep to keep predators away. As a result, herders do not shoot, poison, or trap wildlife, which includes not only pumas, but also several other cat species including Geoffroy’s cat (Leopardus geoffroyi), pampas cat (Leopardus pajeros), and the threatened Andean cat (Leopardus jacobita), along with Patagonian foxes (Lycalopex griseus and Lycalopex culpaeus) and Andean condors (Vultur gryphus).
The dogs are a mix of Anatolian shepherd and Great Pyrenees – two large, working breeds known to guard livestock. The first phase of the project bonds the dogs as puppies with sheep and goat herds to create a familial relationship. WCS works closely with participating herders to provide care for the puppies and livestock during this crucial time.
Said Maria Jose Bolgeri of WCS Argentina: “Our goal is to place guard dogs in the field that will help livestock production but also become allies in wildlife conservation.”
WCS selects herders based on their location, the amount of conflict they are having with carnivores, and their willingness to participate in the program, which includes proper care of the dogs as adults.
Said Flavio Castillo, a herder participating in the program: “Even though we have been hunting, trapping, and killing carnivores, it has never been effective in reducing our losses. It is our hope that [the dogs] will be a very useful tool to stop predation. With the dogs, we can co-exist with carnivores and protect our production. Wildlife belongs here and we have to protect and co-exist with it.”
An added benefit is habitat restoration. Because of the effectiveness of guard dogs in reducing mortality of goats and sheep by predators, ranchers can decrease the size of their herds. This means less overgrazing of native grasses and other plants, in turn reducing desertification, which is a region-wide problem.
Said Martín Funes of WCS Argentina: “WCS Argentina has been working for many years in the development and application of non-lethal tools to prevent attacks and to promote coexistence [with] carnivores. [The dogs are] a very powerful tool, which helps both to conserve our wild carnivores and to improve the producer’s quality of life.”
Support for this work was generously provided by the Alianza Gato Andino, Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network, Disney Conservation Fund, Patagonia Environmental Grants Fund of Tides Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, INIBIOMA-CONICET, Administración de Parques Nacionales de Argentina, Secretaría de Ambiente de Mendoza, Subsecretaría de Producción de Neuquén, Municipalidad de Malargüe and Centro de Ecología Aplicada de Neuquén.