Shepherd dog for conservation | WWF

Shepherd dog for conservation

Posted on 05 April 2019
WWF-Mongolia emphasizes the importance of combining conversation effort of endangered species like snow leopard with traditional herding by using Bankhars as a guardian of the livestock.
© WWF Mongolia
The Altai Mountain is not only home to snow leopards, wolves and very cold winters but it is also home to thousands of nomads and their livestock. With breakdown of communism in Mongolia during 1990s, number of livestock increased drastically nationwide soaring to approximately 60 million heads of camel, horse, cattle, sheep and goat to date. This phenomena  of  unprecedented  increase  of  livestock  number  achieved  in  Western Mongolia  “thanks”  to  breakdown  of  traditional  ecological  knowledge  accumulated  for thousands of years which kept in balance fragile ecosystems of Mongolia. Increasing the number of livestock entails severe pasture degradation and intrusion into snow leopard habitat.  This  in  turn,  forces  snow  leopard  to  attack  more  livestock  exacerbating  the conflict  between  snow  leopards  and  herders. As  a  response  herders  strike  back  to  kill snow leopard for dead livestock. Wildlife experts cite retaliatory killing as one of the main threats to the big cats including snow leopard.   
To  ease  this  situation,  the  Snow  leopard project  along  with  other  actions  such  as increasing  productivity  of  livestock  so  that the nomads can keep number of livestock in adequate  quantity  etc.,  traditional  shepherd dog  –  Bankhar  was  reintroduced.  Without shepherd  dog,  herders  are  forced  to  stay awake   during   long   cold   winter   nights. Historically,  bankhar  was  a  crucial  part  of the nomadic herder’s life, as they are trained as   guardian   shepherds   of   the   livestock. They are extremely loyal and intelligent that they  understand  their  owners  and  always considered as a member of the family.
Elders   say   with   pride   and   sorrow   that Bankhar  never  dies  next  to  owner’s  home,  neither   livestock.   They   hide   from   their  beloved  owners  and  flock  when  they  took  the  last  breath.  Herders  would  tell  a  lot  of  interesting  myths  about  Bankhar  dog  such as wolves doesn’t near or attack flocks when they hear Bankhar’s voice as barking, they protect offspring animals from diurnal birds at the  pastures,  guide  the  herder  and  flocks  to  find  their  home  even  during  the  hardest snow storms. “In the 21st century, there is no modification would replace shepherd dog Bankhar in protecting livestock” Bayanjargal, an experienced herder exclaimed.
If  there  are  attacks  on  the  herd,  it  creates  conflict  between  herders  and  endangered predators  like  a  snow  leopard.  Furthermore,  it  causes  negative  impact  on  traditional herding lifestyle and economy and conservation policy. This type of hunting is defined as retaliation killing for livestock loss and is one of the main threats to the snow leopard, an endangered species.
Mongolia is in fact, home to the second largest population of the snow leopard, following China. Snow leopards are highly adapted to their natural habitat in the cold high mountains and steppe of 12 Central Asian countries. WWF-Mongolia has a big ambition to secure the future of the second largest global population of the snow leopard through involvement of local communities.
Snow leopard considered as an indicator species  whose  health  tells  us  about  the state   of   the   environment   where   they live.   When   the   snow   leopard   suffers, it  is  a  sign  that  the  mountains  and  the rivers   are   also   suffering.   Put   simply, lose  the  snow  leopard  and  we  lose  the source  of  the  freshwater  that  millions  of people   living   downstream   depend   on. Thus,  WWF-Mongolia   emphasizes   the importance   of   combining   conversation effort  of  endangered  species  like  snow leopard  with  traditional  herding  by  using Bankhars as a guardian of the livestock.
WWF-Mongolia’s  “Future  of  the  land  of  snow  leopard”  project  has  collaborated  with Mongolian Bankhar Federation to bring together 20 Bankhar puppies to 12 herders who identified as vulnerable to predators and resides around Darviin Nuruu mountain range which has the most conflict between herders and snow leopards out of the project target mountains.
It`s  our  first  pilot  conservation  intervention  to  tackle  to  a  conflict  between  herders  and snow leopards by re-introducing Bankhar puppies to the herders.
Enkhbileg D. Project coordinator, highlighted  that  “Distribution  of  puppies acts as a reward for those herders, whose rangeland is near snow leopard’s habitat. Bringing Bankhars to the Altai mountains will  help  us  achieve  our  project  goal to  secure  the  future  of  second  largest population of snow leopard with tangible conservation impact”.
In  practice,  puppies  form  an  early  bond with   the   herd   of   sheep,   goats   and other  livestock  such  as  cows,  horses and  camels  and  they  protect  the  herd  for  life  from  predators  like  snow  leopards,  and Mongolian gray wolves.
WWF-Mongolia emphasizes the importance of combining conversation effort of endangered species like snow leopard with traditional herding by using Bankhars as a guardian of the livestock.
© WWF Mongolia Enlarge
Historically, bankhar was a crucial part of the nomadic herder’s life, as they are trained as guardian shepherds of the livestock.
© WWF Mongolia Enlarge