Sheep farming and large carnivores: what are the factors influencing claimed losses?
Large carnivore populations are recovering in many parts of the world and this generates conflicts with humans, notably in terms of livestock depredation. Governmental programs of mitigation measures and compensation for losses are often implemented to reduce conflicts, but the factors affecting losses are poorly understood. We used 11 years of data on domestic sheep (Ovis aries) claimed, and confirmed, to have been killed by predators in Norway to evaluate how predator density, flock management, and other environmental or habitat-related variables are related to losses. The percentage of animals claimed as lost that was found and confirmed to have been killed by large predators (i.e., the detection rate) was low, especially for sheep claimed as killed by Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), wolverine (Gulo gulo) and golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). Still, we generally found that similar factors predicted the number of claims and number of carcasses found across predator species. Predator density was strongly associated with losses, especially for sheep claimed as killed by brown bears (Ursus arctos), lynx and wolverines. Percentage of forest in the pastures, average slaughter weight of the lambs (an indicator of the forage conditions during summer) and vegetation characteristics in the spring also predicted the number of sheep claimed and found killed by lynx, wolverines and eagles. Factors related to losses due to wolves (Canis lupus) were harder to ascertain, possibly because of the severity of mitigation measures (e.g., electric fences) taken to protect sheep in wolf territories, a factor we were not able to include in our large scale analyses. Patrolling of the grazing area and early gathering of sheep in the autumn were not associated with a substantial reduction in losses. However, our dataset was not well suited to evaluate the efficiency of those mitigation strategies. Our findings could help develop new mitigation strategies as alternatives to predator removal where large carnivore conservation is a concern.