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How Fauna & Flora International turned to a sheepdog to protect bears and wolves




The intelligent and devoted Carpathian sheepdog has become a symbol of what can be achieved when man works cooperatively with nature – and has helped propel Fauna & Flora International to the shortlist for the Natura 2000 award.

For the past eight years, Cambridge-based Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been supporting bears and wolves in Romania’s Carpathian mountains, and its work has now been recognised in the finals of Europe’s most prestigious heritage honour.

Natura 2000 is a network of land and sea-based nature protection areas managed by the European Commission. It has 27,000 sites comprising 18 per cent of the EU’s land area and six per cent of its marine territory. The network protects Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats, and the Natura 2000 award is a celebration of excellence in the management of those sites and the value they add to local economies.

FFI’s entry is a showcase for tireless hard work and successful interventions that have helped brown bears and wolves survive four threats to their existence – landscape fragmenting, poaching, inadequate conservation, and negative attitudes (based on fear) towards them.

The UK’s oldest conservation charity’s project has been working in the Apuseni-Southern Carpathian corridor, a 150km ecological bridge connecting the Western Carpathians to the Southern Carpathians.

A bear trapped in a snare in Romania’s Parâng Mountains. It took an hour to release the bear which was sedated by the Fauna & Flora International team. Picture: FFI
A bear trapped in a snare in Romania’s Parâng Mountains. It took an hour to release the bear which was sedated by the Fauna & Flora International team. Picture: FFI

The Carpathians support around 40 per cent of Europe’s brown bears – Romania has 6,000 bears in total – and 21 per cent of its wolves. The corridor is the only route for bears and other species to move between the two mountain regions.

To help the wildlife, FFI has introduced Carpathian sheepdogs, removed 45 hectares of the non-native plant Amorpha fruticose – which forms impenetrable thickets – and purchased 133 hectares of mostly abandoned agricultural land to secure small but strategically vital tracts of habitat, or micro-corridors, through which bears and wolves can safely move. To stop poaching, 88 electric fences were erected and farmers were provided with the sheepdogs, which registered a 100 per cent record in scaring off predators and saving farmers’ stock.

FFI also established a special conflict-resolution team, trained to offer support in obtaining compensation for any losses incurred, while two specialist mountain units within the Romanian gendarmerie were also created, trained and equipped to conduct anti-poaching patrols.

The Carpathian mountains are “a mosaic landscape of forest, meadows and farmland”. Picture:FFI
The Carpathian mountains are “a mosaic landscape of forest, meadows and farmland”. Picture:FFI

“The nomination is testament to the incredible work that has gone into this project over the last nearly eight years,” said Iain Trewby, FFI’s project manager for the Connect Carpathian’s project. “Through our work and in partnership with the government, partner organisations and local communities, we have supported farmers to coexist with carnivores, deployed nearly 240 fences and 62 livestock-guarding dogs. Our intervention team has responded to more than 100 incidents of wild boar damage, poaching of chamois and wild boar sightings in cities, and released bears from snares and bear translocations. In addition to this, by facilitating the compensation to farmers for damages, we have made significant progress in engendering more positive attitudes towards nature. Winning the award would be a fantastic reward for everyone who has played a critical part in the success of this project.”

To enhance awareness and support for the conservation of the bear and wolf and the corridor, 2,600 people from 260 organisations participated in workshops, training courses and public events to learn about a subjects such as large carnivore monitoring and integrated landscape-scale conservation.

Cat your vote for the Natura 2000 European Citizens’ Award until September 15 here.



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