Maremma sheepdogs are being trained to stop eagles attacking sheep

UK: Maremma sheepdogs are an ancient breed as they were first mentioned in Roman literature more than 2,000 years ago. At the time they were used to warn off predators in the area of their origin: the regions of Abruzzi and Maremma in Italy.

Maremma sheepdog protects sheep.
Maremma sheepdog protects sheep. Image: YouTube screenshot.

Nowadays they are usually employed to fight off wolves. As yet we don’t have wolves in the UK although there has been talk of rewilding Britain with wolves. The problem is a lack of space. The UK is the third most densely populated country in Europe after The Netherlands and Belgium (excluding Monaco, Gibraltar, Malta and San Marino).

But the UK does have the white-tailed eagle and they do take sheep as prey animals. White-tailed eagles were reintroduced into Scotland in the 1970s. But they annoy farmers by taking lambs in the spring.

In the first project of its kind, a couple of Maremma puppies are being trained to protect sheep. Jonny and Daisy Ames, who manage Rothiemurchus Falconry near Aviemore in the Cairngorms are training Luigi and Peaches for the role.

They use drones to simulate the presence of eagles and other birds of prey. They are training the dogs to bark at them! The intention is to scare away eagles. Jonny Ames got the idea and inspiration when working in Namibia where dogs are trained to protect livestock from predators such as cheetahs. In Namibia they use Anatolian Shepherds and Kangals, large dog breeds that can weigh up to 150 lbs to protect the endangered cheetah.

Namibia has the world’s largest population of cheetahs and they were donors of 20 cheetah to India in an effort to rewild India with the cat species after they were persecuted to extinction in that country by sport hunting. The project is sadly failing. It is always very difficult to make large relocations of wild cat species work.

White-tailed eagles are also known as sea eagles. They are the UK’s largest bird of prey. They were also hunted to extinction in Britain in 1918. The birds are a popular tourist attraction in Scotland. Sadly, there is this human-animal conflict. The farmer-predator conflict is very common in many countries regarding many species.

Douglas Currie from Loanhead, Midlothian, photographed an eagle taking off with a lamb in its talons on the Isle of Mull.

The Scottish government’s wildlife agency, NatureScot, said that “the use of guardian dogs to mitigate sea eagle predation in Scotland is a new approach and if there is interest from farmers and crofters in exploring this approach, this is something we would consider.”

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