Livestock Fences and Snow Leopard Conservation

Livestock depredation by large carnivores is a major conservation challenge that results in economic loss and emotional trauma for livestock owners. This sets the stage for retaliatory killing of carnivores, such as the snow leopard. But many of these attacks can be prevented with a simple solution—predator-proof corrals for sheep and goats!

Many rural people in the mountains of Central Asia depend upon livestock herding as their primary livelihood. These livelihoods and people’s lives can become severely impacted when snow leopards and wolves prey on livestock. Livestock depredation occurs both on the pastures and at the night-time corrals. Losses in corrals often result in mass killings (reaching up to 10-20 livestock in one night!) that can be especially devastating for a herder family both economically and emotionally. Predator proofing of small corrals or houses is an effective way to reduce livestock losses of small livestock holdings. However, there has not been any effective ways to reduce night-time losses for large livestock holdings – especially in areas where it is difficult or very expensive to build predator proof structures that can hold large numbers of livestock. We therefore built tall fences around night-time corrals for herder families in southern Mongolia. We also wanted to test the effectiveness of these tall fences for reducing or eliminating night-time livestock losses.

Photograph of a traditional livestock corral in the Tost Mountains in southern Mongolia with one of our fences built around it. The purpose of the traditional corrals is not to keep predators out but to keep the herd together and provide shelter from the wind.

Our project showed that the fences were very effective in reducing livestock losses. Livestock loss was reduced from a mean loss of 3.9 goats and sheep per family in the winter prior to the study to zero losses in the two winters of the study. Our study results also showed that herder attitudes towards snow leopards were positive and remained high during the two-year study.

The herders were generally very happy with the fences but suggested making the fences larger to avoid crowding and to complement them with some type of wind-shelter. Crowding of the livestock inside the fences reduces the quality of the wool and may also affect livestock health. During our field visits, we learned that the fences are generally holding up well. However, some of them needed minor repair such as adding additional soil or rocks to places where the soil had washed away under the fence.

Building the fences in the Tost Mountains in southern Mongolia was a collaborative effort where the herders helped each other to construct the fences. In the picture above, Gustaf is trying to excavate the last bit of soil (and goat dung) from one of the holes for the poles that support the fence. It appears as if he still has a bit to learn about the technique judged by the herders’ reaction.

One challenge for integrating the fences used in the study in Mongolia into a permanent conservation program is the relatively high cost of the fencing material. However, for our study, Snow Leopard Trust and our Mongolia partner, Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation, bought the fencing material and then worked out an arrangement together with the herders on how to repay the cost of their fences over time. This arrangement was based on encouraging ownership of the fences so that they would be maintained into the future.

For more on our study in southern Mongolia, please visit Oryx and  www.snowleopard.org for more information on snow leopard conservation and what you can do to help protect snow leopards and their environment.

Goats and sheep grazing in a pasture in the Tost Mountains in southern Mongolia. The study showed that herders lost about the same number of goats and sheep at the pastures as they lost at the night-time corrals prior to our Mongolia fencing study.

3 Comments

  1. Hello,

    Reading your last comment on the photo, I don’t quite understand if the ranchers have seen predation postpone the day now that their cattle are protected at night?

    Thank you in advance for your clarification.

    Congratulations and encouragement for this very positive and collaborative project. Investing in protection to support breeders and reduce the pressure they might put on predators in retaliation.

    1. Hello, Krys. Predation of livestock can still be an issue during the day, but these improved corrals help keep livestock safe in their herd at night. This is especially important since a hungry snow leopard can kill around 20 heads of livestock in one go when they get access to a whole corral. Thanks for the question and the kind words!

      1. Thank you, Liz, for your response.
        So we could say that breeders who adopt this type of protection with these fences can reduce predation by about 50%.
        Yes, I forgot, it’s stupid, that predators can also attack during the day like in Europe with wild dogs or sometimes with wolves.

        Your job is wonderfull, congratulations and may all your employees stay healthy.

        I look forward to continuing to read and support you, even modestly within my resources 🙂

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