Fox-Watched

Somebody likes peering through the fence!

Fox1 1403016

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Livestock Guardian Dogs – Nature’s Arbitrators

It’s the classic childhood story. A cute lamb skips out of the farmyard, while the wolf schemes in the shadows. Innocence and malice, all so simple – except it isn’t, of course. It’s the Hollywood version of a war which in reality has no victor, hurting the world’s most vulnerable farmers and causing horrendous suffering for wildlife. Away from the dinner tables and restaurants that serve animal products without hinting at the conflict behind them, a small army of conservationists is battling to keep livestock and predators alive.

Coyote and cows

When people talk about the environmental costs of meat, they usually mean that it is literally a resource hog, swallowing 90% of the world’s soya production, a third of its grain, and a terrifying proportion of its fresh water. Feeding our billions of factory-farmed livestock requires crops on a mind-boggling scale – and the Amazon is being destroyed to grow them. Meanwhile, the seas are emptied of wild fish to feed our disease-riddled farmed fish. I understand that many people do want to eat animal products, but this is about the most inefficient and inhumane approach in human history.

But that’s not why I’m writing this post. Increasingly, people are reading that farmyard story from the wolf’s perspective, and wondering how livestock and predators can share the same space. Answers are desperately needed. From snow leopards in Mongolia to foxes in the Yorkshire Dales, there is not a wild carnivore species on earth which is not involved.

I often hear people call predators ‘evil’, or that they only attack livestock out of some guilty desperation. Both are anthropomorphism. Wolves and jackals do not have the mental capacity to know that one prey species is the property of the farmer down the hill, and another is fair game. Ending conflict requires studying the predator’s instincts and lifecycle, and working with it.

Animals offer one answer. Llamas, for example, drive coyotes away from livestock.

Guard llamas

Turkey is not native llama country. But it has long been home to some remarkable dogs – they accompanied the Ottoman Janissaries on their parades, and guarded flocks against wolves and leopards.

Turkish kangal

I saw kangals in Turkey last month, living much as they have ever since shepherds and sheep arrived in Anatolia. But the photo is of a dog at Crufts Dog Show this week.

This Anatolian shepherd was even larger.

Anatolian shepherd

In Hungary, komondors have a similar purpose; they have guarded sheep from wolves since at least the 12th century AD. Their extraordinary coats offer a kind of armour against predator bites.

Komondor

Traditional livestock guardian dogs have been imported to high conflict spots around the world, from wolf country in Alberta to cheetah habitat in Namibia. Of course, they are not a complete answer, but there is good evidence that they can significantly reduce the problem.

Ultimately, however, what happens to wildlife on farmlands is the consumer’s choice. Most governments are reluctant to protect ‘problem’ wildlife, even critically endangered species, and it may be that retailers have the greater power to change the status quo. In a world where people are increasingly disconnected from the production of their food, it helps to remember that everything on the shelf has a history. If a product is labelled Predator Friendly, that history doesn’t involve killing wildlife.

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The Advance Party

Turkey’s wildlife is under terrible pressure, but that doesn’t mean that it is impossible to find. I spotted a fox in Cappadocia (which is proof, if it were needed, that they really do follow me everywhere 😕 ) but the coast held a far higher variety of living creatures.

Starred agamas are bulky lizards which are quite territorial. They hunt insects (especially bees and wasps) and scramble capably over rocky walls.

Starred agama2

Starred agama1

Sometimes they get an nice view of the beach, too.

Starred agama3

Many other lizards can be found, but identifying them to species is tough. These are probably Anatolian rock lizards.

Common lizard1

Common lizard2

But the ‘advance party’ of the title are African migrants. Turkey is on a major migration route for birds, and although I was too early to see classic Med species like bee-eaters, there were some new arrivals. This is a common redstart, which despite its name I have never even seen before.

Redstart

About them are residents such as yellow-vented bulbuls.

Yellow vented bulbul

Sardinian warblers flit close to the bushes.

Sardinian warbler

Laughing doves superficially resemble the collared dove ubiquitous in England, but are more mottled.

Laughing dove

But the biggest identification challenge is overhead. Buteos (buzzards) are every bit as confusing in Turkey as they are in Saskatchewan, although there are fewer species. After considerable analysis, I am comfortable with calling this a common buzzard:

Common buzzard1

…and this a long-legged buzzard, a larger species that is not found in the UK.

Long legged Buzzard1

All in all, it was a very good trip, but I cannot help but feel that exploring further from the tourist track would be rewarding. Of course, there is only one way to test that hypothesis 😉

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Half in the Wild

All wildlife photographers know that is necessary to remain a respectful distance from your subjects. If you don’t, you can never predict what might happen. My bag was viciously attacked!

Puppy attack

Well…as far as human / animal conflicts go, it was easily tolerated 😉

Puppy

Stray dogs follow humanity wherever we go. This puppy was part of a litter of six; the mother had an owner who was planning to find homes for the young ones. Many dogs roam free; charities neuter them and try to rehome them in the UK. Few show signs of fear, at least in the tourist areas, but some are very thin.

Others have a different heritage. Turkey is the homeland of Anatolian shepherd dogs, an enormous breed historically used to keep sheep and wolves apart. They’ve been introduced to southern Africa to reduce livestock conflicts with cheetahs, and are not dogs for an inexperienced owner – they can be extremely aggressive to other animals. Still, in Anatolia, they roam free.

Anatolian shepherd dogs

Anatolian shepherd dog

And then there are cats. This beautiful creature mewed very loudly for scraps.

Feral cat

A few minutes later we saw why: she had two young kittens in the shrubbery by a cafe.

Kitten large

On an objective scale, Turkey does have a long way to go when it comes to animals, both wild and domestic. Things are much better than they used to be for pets, but wildlife is still very heavily persecuted. Turkey is a rapidly modernising country, and better accessibility to its remote corners will send its mega-fauna to extinction unless conservation measures are rapidly enforced.

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Legacy

The volcanoes slumber now.

Volcano over Goreme

But they are responsible for this geological themepark of gigantic rock mushrooms. Superficially Monks Valley resembles the badlands of the Canadian west, but its origin is quite different. Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, for example, is sedimentary rock exposed by water erosion. Central Turkey’s surreal towers were born of fire – this is consolidated volcanic ash.

Monks Valley5

The caps of the ‘mushrooms’ are cooled lava – basalt – and the depth of that is sobering. Little wonder the volcanoes rise so high over the Konya Plain.

Basalt

But ancient destruction has provided humanity with homes. Long ago, villagers hid from their enemies in underground cities carved into the soft tuff rock.

Underground

The boulders intended to keep enemies out still remain.

Doorstop

But some buildings are grander. The Apostle Paul was born in Turkey and undertook some of his missionary journeys in Cappadocia. These Byzantine churches are around 1000 years old.

Rock church

Byzantine

This land has the feeling of agelessness, but the forces that created the towers haven’t ceased. It’s hard not to look at the valley sides and wonder what they might become in another millennia.

Erosion progress

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