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Improving coexistence of large carnivores and agriculture in S. Europe (COEX)
Start date: Oct 1, 2004, End date: Sep 30, 2008 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background Pilot projects that aim to reduce the conflict between large carnivores and human activities have been carried out in Croatia, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Now, for the first time, these countries have joined together in a co-ordinated effort to save their bear and wolf populations. The population size of these predators in the five Mediterranean countries has experienced a dramatic decline over the last century, mainly due to human persecution and habitat loss. As a result, bears and wolves, which were present throughout most of the region, are now characterised by small and fragmented populations, some of which (i.e. bears in central and north-eastern Italy and in central and eastern Pyrenees, and wolves in France), are so reduced in number that they face extinction. Notwithstanding this decline, large carnivores are still accused by farmers of causing damage to livestock and agriculture. Deep-rooted antagonism and fears in rural areas are responsible for the negative public attitude towards the two predators. However the wolf and bear populations have increased in many parts of Europe recently. This is partially one cause of conflicts: they are coming back to areas where they had disappeared and people have abandoned the use of dogs and fencing to protect the livestock. So now the livestock is exposed to the presence of predators with no protection. This causes conflicts between the farming world and the carnivores, which again can turn into persecution of wolves and bears by man. Objectives The project aimed to develop the necessary legal and socio-economic conditions for the conservation of the bear and wolf, reducing actual and potential conflict situations through a series of measures implemented within a co-ordinated strategy. As a first step, studies on bear and wolf population size and distribution, would be carried out with the support of a Geographic Information System (GIS). Studies on damage caused by carnivores, damage prevention methods and causes of vulnerability of agricultural activities would be also carried out, together with surveys on public perception toward large carnivores. Other actions (the core of the project)would include: the implementation of effective damage prevention methods, such as traditional and electric fences and use of livestock guarding dogs (LGD); the improvement of damage compensation and insurance systems, and monitoring to verify the effectiveness of these measures and how to adapt them to local conditions. Actions and studies targeting stray dogs, whose recurring damage to livestock is often ascribed to other wild carnivores, would be also carried out (i.e. development of a specific management plan and implementation of a vaccination campaign). The project also foresaw a wide information campaign aimed at the general public and rural communities, in order to raise awareness on ways to improve the coexistence between large carnivores and human activities, emphasising the potential economic benefit of conserving carnivores (e.g. eco-tourism). Results The project managed to achieve a slight decrease of the amount of damage to livestock, beehives and crops, however in the cases in which fencing systems and livestock guarding dogs were used the damage dropped by almost 100%. Most farmers were able to use effective damage prevention techniques. Another key result of the project was the improved attitudes and knowledge of farmers and of the general public about large carnivores. Farmers are now more aware of the potential economic benefits of large carnivores. An extensive range of dissemination tools (leaflets, posters, logos, TV and radio broadcasts, educational kits, etc) was produced. The project also improved existing compensation systems for livestock damage in some target areas. Public authorities and the majority of stakeholders welcomed the initiative. Moreover, it demonstrated the possibility of a more positive coexistence of human activities with large carnivores such as wolf and bear, given that adequate (yet fairly simple) precautionary and information measures are taken. By the project end, however, some of the expected results (e.g. the use of effective damage prevention techniques is known to 80% of the farmers in the involved project areas) were not probably achieved. But in all the project countries the people/bodies involved in the project had a very close contact with livestock raising. In Portugal one person had worked for many years with all the livestock raisers in the project area. In Spain an individual was specifically hired to approach all the livestock raisers and discuss with them damage prevention issues. Also, the company ILEX formed a close working relationship with most of the livestock raisers on the Spanish territory. In Italy, the staff of national parks and province administrations also enjoyed constant close contact with livestock farmers for the collection of data about damage, the donation of electric fences or LGD, and the day-to-day management of damage. Finally, information about electric fences and LGD has widely spread among livestock raisers autonomously. Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report (see "Read more" section).
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