One morning in early June this year, a Swedish sheep farmer discovered that 21 of his sheep had been killed. The aggressor had taken only a small bite of each sheep before killing the next defenseless prey. Expertise identified the offender to be a wolf.
Wolves in Sweden are frequently debated. Some suggest that wolves should be uncompromisingly hunted and ‘eliminated’. This naturally upsets those advocating the necessity of biological diversity. In turn, these groups claim that the hazard should be ‘engineered out’ by improving fencing.
Both solutions (hunting and fencing) are examples of protective safety. They are about increasing the distance, or buffer, between the hazard and what is worthy to protect. But increasing separation/protection this way often makes systems more rigid. Killing wolves reduces biodiversity and may take away capacity to keep deer and other wildlife in balance. Likewise, putting up a wolf proof fence drastically reduces the mobility for anyone who wishes to access or cross the field (these fences are higher and electrified).
In contrast to protective safety, adaptive safety is not about hazard elimination or otherwise tighter control. In contrast to protective safety, adaptive safety (or safety II) is about boosting the capacity of the system to actively deal with the hazard successfully.
Applying adaptive safety thinking to the sheep-wolf situation prompts the rather unusual question: How can sheep’s capacity to observe, alert, and take action be improved? Somewhat unexpectedly, the solution could be a ‘Guard Llama’.
Llamas are territorial, and suspicious of dogs. Llamas are taller and can spot an intruder earlier. And sheep easily accept a llama as the herd’s leader. Once an invader has been identified the llama warns the herd, collects them in a group, and positions itself between the herd and the intruder. Weighing roughly 150kg, being taller, capable of screaming loudly, skilled at biting, kicking and spitting at unwanted trespassers, makes the cost-benefit of attacking a herd of sheep guarded by a llama less attractive.
As often seems to be the case when changing resources to increase adaptive capacity or making systems more resilient, there is a trade-off with predictability. Introduced species may escape with unintended devastating effects. It is difficult to know beforehand how it’s going to play out. Likewise, it may be scary for leaders in command-and-control organisations to give more discretion to workers to adapt locally. A step by step approach seems feasible.
Guard llamas are already in use in places like the US and Switzerland, and have proven highly effective against coyotes, bobcats, lynx, stray dogs, and other predators potentially interested in sheep. There is still little evidence as to how effective Llamas are against the Scandinavian wolves, but tests are now underway on several farms.