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.
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.
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.