Tube man deters wolves

Southern Oregon rancher Ted Birdseye fires up an inflatable dancing tube man, loaned by the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife, to scare wolves away from the pasture where he grazes cattle.

Just about the last thing a visitor to Ted Birdseye’s ranch would expect to see is “Tube Man.”

You know, one of those inflatable air dancers that flop back and forth and are featured at used car lots across the country.

Birdseye, whose Mill-Mar Ranch is in Southern Oregon, has not one but two of the crazy-looking contraptions. The idea is not to sell 1985 Buicks but to keep wolves away from his livestock.

Wolves in the past year have taken a heavy toll on Birdseye’s herd, killing or injuring at least seven calves and one guard dog.

Such attacks would drive a rancher to try just about anything to keep wolves away from livestock.

The idea for the “Tube Man” came from the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife as a non-lethal means of keeping wolves away from the herd.

Birdseye has tried other means of keeping wolves away: flashing lights and hanging fladry — tiny flags — on fences. He has even had U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf coordinator John Stephenson camp on his ranch.

The “Tube Man” had been used with success on a ranch near La Grande after wolves killed several llamas.

“It’s always struck me as something wolves would be particularly skittish of,” Suzanne Stone, senior Northwest representative of Defenders of Wildlife, said.

When it comes to keeping wolves away from livestock, any and all means should be tried. Air cannons, special lights called Fox Lights, noisemakers — even drones equipped with lights, pepper spray and noisemakers — can be part of the toolbox for ranchers and others who are pestered by predators. Some ranchers have success training their cattle to stay in herds instead of running.

In Botswana, Africa, researchers have even painted eyes on the rumps of cattle to keep lions away. Called the iCow, it causes the predators to give up their hunt, according to the Australian Geographic magazine. It does it by tapping into the fact that lions quit hunting if the prey looks at them.

In the experiment, the researcher found that none of the 23 cows with eyes painted on their rears were killed, while 39 others without the eyes were killed.

In another experiment, the magazine reported the Australian researcher is testing whether use of dingo territorial scents might keep predators away from cattle.

Other, less scientific research has involved hooking up a motion sensor to a sprinkler to keep mountain lions away from livestock. According to mountainlion.org, when a predator shows up, it gets a good dousing to let it know it’s not welcome. Another idea the website reported on involved using Christmas lights to create “evil” eyes that scare predators away.

One wonders whether other low- and high-tech tools might work. Motion sensors are readily available at hardware stores. In fact, they allow trail cameras to photograph wolfpacks in the wild. Combined with “Tube Man” and other devices, they might just be enough to scare off wolves intent on attacking livestock.

The idea is to keep trying. Wolves are smart, and they are vicious, but there has got to be a way to keep them away from livestock.

And if all else fails, there’s always a rifle — when and where it’s legal.

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