Thursday, 12 October 2017

Wolves of another kind

This past week, we had an opportunity to travel to Vancouver, and on this trip, we managed to go out and do some whale watching. I often wonder if my grand kids will ever have an opportunity to see wild whales.  With the rapid decline of so many species this really is concerning.

I have seen whales before,  off the coast of South Africa,  for me not the first time, however even though not the first time, it definitely is awe inspiring to see these animals. 

I understand much of the controversy surrounding eco-tourism, but I also have this belief that if we expose people to the issues, and use these moments to educate people, then perhaps this would have a positive impact on protecting and conserving both the animals and their environments.I do find that once you see (any) these beautiful creatures in their natural environment, one would possibly be more inclined to want to do more to ensure their survival.
 I found the boat operator to be highly respectful of the animals, staying far enough away and being as unobtrusive as possible. He was also respectful of the amount of time spent with the whales. Bearing in mind that these whales live in a strait that is also full of large tankers and many boats and ships, one did realize how used to boats these animals are. In many of the photo's I took, one can see these ships on the background. These animals were also close to shore, hunting fish and seals.

We had the privileged to spend time with 2 humpback whales, one who is well known in this area, a female called Windy, and her un-named companion.

The tell tale puff. 

I can see you.
 Not many people can tell you,
 what humpback whale breath smells like,
I can, and it  does not smell anything like rainbows...


The seagulls give away the spot where the whales were.

And ever so gently they rise back out of the water, before diving down.

When diving deeper, the tail fin flags in the air before sinking down.
The whales travel quite a distance under water and where they pop back up is very unpredictable and can be quite a distance away.

The animals are identified by their tail fins, shape, coloring, nicks and other identifying features.

We left the two humpback whales, and met up with 2 orca brothers on the hunt. The orcas are regarded as the "wolves of the sea". These orcas are also similarly named by identifying dorsal fins. These can be as tall as 6 feet. Some are wider others narrower, each set of orcas are also identified by the "pod" they belong to. These are family groups. These two bothers were aged 33 and 24 years old, they were not together with their pod initially, but did later join up with mom, a young brother and another female. 

The 2 have different shaped dorsal fins, the older male has a thicker and taller dorsal fin than his younger brother. As you can see by this bottom photo big container ships move through the strait.

Our guide was saying that she thought these two had caught a harbour seal by their behaviour, rolling around over on to it, tail splashing and some other excited behaviour. We did not see a seal. The hunt co-cooperatively and both will share in the food.

It is amazing to see how fast these animals are. Once they decided to join back up with the pod, including mom and another younger brother and a female, they traveled very fast.

This is the other "half" of the pod, Mom and the other two.

They sped off into the distance so we left them alone and headed back to the humpbacks for a short visit again.

These two surfaced pretty close to the boat, and we could see all the bumps on their bodies.

More diving and fishing, at one moment they came up and out of the water, mouths open, swollowing as many fish as they could, the gulls would fly overhead hoping for some morsels of fish.

Going, going, gone... 

We ended up our tour in a small log bay, where logs were held before being transport. We say this eagle and a bunch of fat lazy seals.

The orcas we saw were not reguarded as 'residents" but rather transient animals coming up from the US coast. We were told that the local  resident orcas were having a hard time with the poor salmon runs in the past few years. As the residents will only eat (chinook) salmon, they are less adaptable as the transients, who will hunt seals, other whales and of course salmon.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Policing ourselves

This article appeared in the Shepherds Magazine 
©Louise Liebenberg 2017

I am a firm believer that each group or organization needs to police its self. For example, I believe that ethical hunters should always report poachers and should ensure that poachers do not get a ‘free ride”. Similarly, I believe that the sheep organizations must police their own members when it comes to issues such as animal welfare or other industry concerns.  The actions of a few “bad ones” can have great ramifications to the entire industry, which could result in new laws, possible bans, more monitoring and public backlash. I further believe, that it is also vitally important to listen to the murmurs and comments of the public and, possibly even groups who are known activists, as you will hear what the concerns and issues are and what they are focussing on. Being aware of what the public finds concerning early on will allow time to either address, educate or explain the situation or possibly change questionable practices. So, by now you are probably wondering what this all has to do with livestock guardian dogs?

On many of the social media sites one can regular hear concerns about LGD use, some people are concerned about the large numbers of cross bred Pyrenees ( or other LGDs ) ending up in shelters, they are concerned about general welfare issues such as cold or snow ( campaigns to bring them all inside when the weather is cold), people are concerned about range dogs being forgotten after the grazing season,  others ( non dogs people) are concerned about aggressive dogs on public lands and some people are concerned that the USDA are testing super killer dogs in their research project, to name a few. Some concerns are legitimate, while others may be a little off track, but hearing them and acknowledging them is something we all need to do when it comes down to protecting our sheep industry and the dogs who protect our stock.

If we, as an industry, do not police ourselves on these issues, other organizations will step up and lobby for measures that might be detrimental to us. It is better to be proactive in these matters than wait until the use of LGD is banned. In a few European countries breed bans already exist, and quite a few of the LGD breeds are on these lists. In some areas, certain by-laws are already in place where no dogs can be outside in the cold or snow or no tethering is allowed, or a maximum number of dogs are allowed on the property. These laws are placed to ensure a better high welfare standard for the dogs, or to prevent human/ dog conflicts. For many ranchers who use LGD, these laws limit the way the LGD can be utilised or are so restrictive that it makes it working with these dogs impossible. It is imperative that we acknowledge these concerns and start working towards resolutions.

So, what can we do to ensure that decades down the road, we can still use LGD in their traditional way, living out with the sheep and protecting the livestock from predators?
We need to ensure that the guardian dogs working for us, have a high level of care and attention is paid to their welfare. The dogs need to be in a good physical condition, healthy and strong. If Joe Public goes hiking on a Sunday afternoon on public lands, the dogs he see’s and photographs should be healthy and fit. Old, sick, and injured dogs need to be cared for at home.  Perception is everything, if the public perceives the dogs are not well cared for, it reflects on the industry. Even though all of us know that most LGD will not utilise a shelter while out with the flock, it does not mean that we should not be offering some access to shelter.

A big concern on public lands is dog aggression towards hikers and bikers. Here education goes a long way. Sign post that sheep, shepherd and dogs are in the area, educate how to behave around the dogs, possible be prepared to move the flock to an area with less human traffic are ways to alert the public of the dogs and the role these dogs play in protecting our herds. I think a big part of this concern can also be mitigated through correct socialization of the dogs. LGD who are accustomed to being handled, who see people regularly and who are not fearful of people tend to behave calmer in situations where they meet strangers. Semi-feral dogs are fearful, the stand with their tail between their legs and bark excessively at strangers. They are unpredictable and nervous, which can escalate quickly to a bite situation with people who do not understand dogs. Dogs who are fearful of people, look like dogs who are beaten as they cower, are nervous, tail tucked under the belly and nervous when approached. The public might perceive abuse in such a situation.

 Semi feral dogs or dogs who are raised “hands off”, can also not be handled appropriately when it comes to veterinary treatments, or simply leashing them if the situation arises, transporting these dogs is often a huge issue. This situation is concerning from both a animal welfare and public safety point of view. It is time to put the “never touch the LGDs” myth to bed, and we need to start rearing LGD pups in a way that is more socially appropriate, better for the rancher, the dog, and the public.

We need to be cognizant of the fact that there are many unwanted LGD crosses ending up in shelters. We need to ensure our non-breeding working dogs are spayed or neutered to prevent accidental breeding’s between the herding (or, any other breed) and the LGD. The world does not need more unwanted pups. We need to ensure that we do our part and not add to the problem by having litters of pups that have no homes.  Perhaps, it is an idea for local sheep groups to approach a veterinarian and see if they could negotiate group rates for working LGD spay and neuters. We need to focus on breeding the best LGD to the best, and ensure that good working homes are available for these pups. We need to be as vigilant in breeding our LGD as we are in breeding our livestock.

It is always makes the headline and social media, when LGD are forgotten on the range. It is reports such as this that paints our industry in a bad light. I get that LGD sometimes roam, and I get that some disappear and reappear later, however we need to try to the best of our abilities to find any lost dogs, we need to try to get them back. Micro-chipping, or even a contact number tattooed on the dog, or a name and phone number on the collar of the dog will help with this. 

Having dogs who are human social will certainly help when trying to locate a missing dog.
We need to dispel misinformation in a professional way, if some environmental groups of people are having concerns that the USDA are breeding a breed of super wildlife killing dogs, we need educate and inform them what is the reality. Even though the issue may seem absurd, these rumors soon have a life of their own. Giving out clear, easy to understand, factual information, will help relieve some of these concerns, rather than dismissing them as garbage.

So, that brings me back to the beginning, as a sheep rancher or an industry organization, we must listen and acknowledge concerns people have with regards to the welfare of our sheep and our working dogs (herding and livestock protection), we need to police ourselves and do all we can to prevent topics of concern becoming major issues down the road. We need to aspire to higher welfare standards for our working dogs, better rearing practices, appropriate socialization, and more education to the public, if we don’t do this, other groups will lobby governments for more restrictive laws, and more controls and this maybe be so restrictive that using LGD may becomes impossible.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Puppy update 6 weeks: Meet and Greet

The six week milestone has been reached.
This is the time I really like the pups to get out and meet new things, build experiences and explore a larger world.

The pups have sheep in the barn to see and watch, the old red cat comes and visits and they have mom.
This week I wheelbarrow-ed the pups way back into the bush to meet some of the other sheep, meet the other big dogs and visit with the collies.

The meeting the other dogs went great. Vuk, the dad came and said a brief hello but then mooched off to watch all the puppy shenanigans from a safe distance. Mali was a little aloof, but kept a good watchful eye out for them. Silver, who is almost a yearling now, was most intrigued by the pups and spent most of the time hanging out with them.
The pups found Ash the collie interesting, but as Ash was mostly off looking to gather some sheep he was not too involved with the pups.

The ewes are grazing in very thick bush and it is hard to find them, so ultimately only 2 ewes came to the meet and greet.

Here are the photo's from this day.



Dark male

Dark female

Dark female


Large male

The next day was VET day! All the pups were vaccinated and had their first health check and all looked great. This was another new experience for the pups, travelling for 2 hours in the truck, in the clinic and getting cuddles from Dr Chris and staff.
They are now microchipped.

Every day their learning experiences expand it it is such fun to see them growing and changing.

And, cutest photo of the day!

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