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Koppal: The land of the shepherds and the wolves
| August 31, 2018
Relations that have stood the test of time and survived
On a lazy hot afternoon, in the sprawling grasslands of Koppal, Pushpamma heard the dogs bark. She turned around to see the guard dogs being rounded into the corner by a herd of wolves, while one wolf managed to grab a sheep and run. The others followed suit quickly and the dogs chased but couldn’t save the sheep from the agile wolves.
Shepherds with their guard dogs © Meghana Sanka
For generations, the wolves and the shepherds of Koppal have shared a strange equation - where both seem to benefit from one other. The wolves get their occasional meal from the shepherd’s cattle and the shepherds believe that if the wolves take a few sheep/goat from them in a year, it’s a blessing in disguise for them. They believe it helps their herd’s numbers multiply quickly. The shepherds fondly call the wolves “Sodara mama”, meaning mom’s brother.
The truth, Muthappa explains, “We lose more cattle to diseases than we do to wolves. Foot and mouth disease, lung disorders and blue tongue diseases claim a lot of cattle lives. We do vaccinate them, but since we have limited means, we use the same syringe for all the cattle. Sometimes, the medicine helps, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Shepherds are nomadic and keep searching new areas for their cattle to graze. Since the shepherds and the wolves (they are not territorial then?) are always continuously moving, no shepherd loses more than a couple of sheep/goats to the wolves in a year. The shepherds are anxious of the leopards and the bears and do not seem to mind wolves to the same extent.
Shivappa, another shepherd adds, “We lost four sheep to wolves in the last six months. They mostly come in the night, jump over the fence,and take a sheep or a lamb. When we hear the sheep bleat and the dogs bark, we run outside with a torch in our hands, but these wolves are so fast. They already drag the sheep and go. They are sometimes so quiet that even the dogs do not get to know. We believe the wolves have a share in our herd – if they take 2-3 sheep/goats, it is good for us.”
Goats and sheeps rest in their enclosure © Meghana Sanka
The nomadic shepherds are always on the lookout for greener pastures and hence keep travelling far and wide with their cattle. Farmers invite shepherds and offer grains and money to them. The droppings from the cattle act as natural fertilizers and hence it is a win-win for both the farmer and the shepherd – shelter for the cattle; fertiliser for the crops.
To protect their cattle, every shepherd has 2-3 guard dogs – mostly Indian mongrels or terrier mixes. The main guard dog is made to wear either a spiked collar or one with bells. This dog is the alpha and commands the other dogs in protecting the herd.
Sommana’s wife proudly narrates, “We were camping in the fields and one evening the wolves came close to the pen. The dogs efficiently chased them away. Our dogs are excellent guards and we haven’t lost a single sheep/goat in the past six months.”
Though the guard dogs are tough and fierce, the shepherds acknowledge that wolves are very intelligent creatures. Basappa says, “Wolves know the direction of the wind and come against the wind so the dogs do not find out they are approaching. They also know which sheep/goat is diseased and will never pick up a sick one. They are quiet, fast and clever.”
An Indian wolf in the grasslands of Koppal © Deccan Conservation Foundation
In Koppal, the sheep/goats have been an essential part of the wolves' diet from ages. This has been accepted by the shepherds who have a considerable amount of tolerance and even respect for the wolves.
In such an equation, while protection of wolves is of utmost importance, the welfare of humans who have been staying in these areas is of equal importance. Taking their positive attitudes towards wolves into account, conservation initiatives should be framed in a way that not only protects the people but incentivizes the shepherds to act as their protectors.
Efforts in the right direction will ensure that the equation continues and remains balanced far into the future.
Written by Meghana Sanka