A Swiss biologist is developing a system that will alert shepherds via text message when their sheep are under threat from wolves. Eventually the system could actively deter the wolves from attacking.
The work is designed to tackle a significant problem with sheep either perishing in a wolf attack, or simply being do frightened that they break out of their surroundings and flee. The idea is to use a special collar with a heart rate monitor that would then sent a text to shepherds if the sheep’s heartrate rose for a sustained period.
Initial testing involved 12 sheep and two muzzled Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs, a breed that was intentionally developed in the 1950s from German Shepherds and wolves for use in law enforcement, the idea being to combine the physical attributes of a wolf with the ability of dogs to be trained
The testing showed that the system should work particularly well with sheep: even the simulated attack caused their heart rate to rise from 60-80 beats per minute up to 225 bpm, which should be detectable without the risk of false alarms.
The project is the work of Jean-Marc Landry of KORA, a biology research group specializing in carnivores. Landry says he plans to start developing collars later this year, with the plan of testing a final prototype in 2013.
As well as the text messaging tool, the final versions of the collars could also automatically trigger either a sound to deter the wolves, or emit a repellant spray that would likely be non-lethal.
Cost could come into play as the spray would only work if the wolf was close to the sheep, meaning every sheep would need the collar; there could be similar problems with the sound technique depending on how far it traveled.
In theory though, the text message tool might only need a sample of the sheep as it would only take one frightened sheep to trigger the alert. Whether that’s a cost-effective saving would depend on how quickly the shepherd would be able to respond.
(Image credit: Peter Gordois)