In this Q&A, we discussed with author Igor Khorozyan the background behind his team’s recently published article: “Studded leather collars are very effective in protecting cattle from leopard (Panthera pardus) attacks” and the wider implications of the research, as well as finding a little bit more about the author himself.
What’s your article about?
In this article, we studied how good protective collars are in saving cattle from lethal throat bites of leopards. We designed and produced special belt-like collars with metal studs and spikes, and wished to know how effective they are in reducing cattle losses to leopards. If collars are effective, then local people would be more positive towards conservation, and leopards in particular, and less motivated to kill leopards in retribution.
What is the background behind your article?
My team and I have been working on human-big cat conflicts in Iran for several years and it became clear right from the beginning that some locally friendly solutions were in dire need in order to reduce livestock losses to predators. I also have a personal interest in leopards because they are globally vulnerable, but endangered and critically endangered in the Middle East where I am from (Armenia) and which I love so much.
How did you come up with the idea for it?
We already did a project on the use of all-metal collars in cattle, sheep and goats, but animals were suffering from these collars. We stopped using them and started to think about how to make them softer, but still strong against leopards.
Why is it important?
Livestock losses to predators are one of the main reasons predators are killed by people. As a result of such retaliatory destruction, as well as loss of prey and living space, many predators are globally threatened with extinction. We all perceive predators as cute flagships and adore them when seeing them in zoos or watching TV. But local people are different; they are often not happy because they lose money, experience stress and even may die from predator attacks. We need to help these people so that they could save their livestock and we could save our predators.
Did you have any problems setting up the experiment/gathering your data?
No. My team is great and they did their best to obtain good-quality data. This project also allowed us to establish good contacts with local people and governmental authorities, which is an intangible, but important result for long-term cooperation in the future.
What are the key messages of your research?
The collars were effective in reducing cattle losses to leopards and the design of these collars were very suitable for practical applications. What is very important is that these collars can be produced locally at the same workshops that make saddles, bridles and similar products, so collar-making can potentially become a nice local business for rural people. However more research on the effectiveness of the collars is needed in other areas, predators and livestock species. We need to see whether this is a general solution or is successful just in this part of the world.
The bigger picture
What does your work contribute to the field?
Our work is another effective local practice to improve conservation and local lives. We all need to understand what really works, why and how, so that to not waste time and resources which could be otherwise used for improvement.
Does this article raise any new research questions?
Many. Why do leopards not attack collared cattle? Do they learn from a bad experience or just fear a novelty? This would require a special telemetry project for tracking cattle and leopard movements. Also, how do these collars work in other situations, e.g. same leopards but in different areas or landscapes, or other predator species, or other livestock species like sheep and goats? If collars reduce livestock losses, do the people respond by reducing predator killing?
What is the next step in this field going to be and what would you like to do next?
The next step would be applying these collars and other locally affordable and friendly tools to protect livestock from predators, followed by the monitoring of predator killing by livestock keepers. I’d like to work more in research and practical conservation so that to find the most effective interventions. It’s a never ending process, learning by doing, which allows me to keep moving and never feel complacent.
What is the broader impact of your research (outside of your specific species/study system)?
I am very keen to see how these collars can work in different scenarios. Maybe they work in leopards, but not in jaguars? Then why? Maybe they work better on cattle rather than on sheep? Again, why? And so on. Like with any conservation intervention, it opens many pathways for research and discoveries which, very importantly, are practical and comprehensible for people living with wildlife.
Who should read your article (people that work in a particular field, policy makers, etc.)?
We tried to write this article reader-friendly and understandable for all, from governmental officials to local people.
About The Author
How did you get involved in ecology?
I loved animals since childhood. A trivial but honest answer, that’s all.
What are you currently working on?
Effectiveness of interventions applied to protect human assets, like livestock, suburban spaces etc. from predators.
What project/article are you most proud of?
I prefer not to be proud, just to avoid complacency and arrogance as I am completely out of them. All projects and papers are equally important, there is a lot of history behind each of them.
What is the best and worst thing about being an ecologist?
I consider myself a conservationist, than an ecologist. The best thing is the feeling of being important for wildlife and people. The worst things are the frustration when there are no large wild animals seen or heard, when a killed or trapped animal is encountered, when a firearm shot is heard in the mountains…
What do you do in your spare time?
Listening my favorite music, walking, reading, watching TV news
One piece of advice for someone in your field…
If you feel that field work is not yours, do not even try. Be honest with yourself. Conservation is fully emotional. It requires love, patience and perseverance, but does not promise the wealth you would like to reach. Stay humble and keep on learning every day.
Read the full research: “Studded leather collars are very effective in protecting cattle from leopard (Panthera pardus) attacks” in Issue 1:1 of Ecological Solutions and Evidence.