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Conservation Updates

How We Choose To Define Human-Wildlife Interaction Is How We Choose To Define How We Want To Co-Exist with Wildlife

This article aims to address how human-wildlife conflict as a term could cause harmful connotations when looking at the need to approach the pressing need to make space for co-existence between humans and wildlife.

Human-wildlife interactions are a defining experience of human existence.

Since the beginning of humankind, humans and wildlife have been competing – for resources, space, and ultimately survival. Humans eventually adapted to become the more dominant ecological force. This has led to the extinction of countless species, the evolving change in structure and functions of ecosystems, and the loss of life (both human and wildlife), and it has by no means resolved the ‘conflict’ between humans and wildlife.

Crocodiles are prehistoric reptiles that date back to the Mesozoic era and have remained functionally unchanged. Records dating back to Ancient Egypt reveal that as far back as around 2000 BC, hippopotamuses in the Nile delta grazed on cultivated crops, while crocodiles ate livestock and humans, which means crocodiles have been attacking and eating humans and their livestock in Africa for as long as modern humankind can remember. This has not changed. Crocodiles are predatory creatures by nature, and humans rely on livestock for their livelihoods, making this ‘fight’ for land and resources one that goes back to ancient times.

In recent decades, due to human population growth wild spaces are shrinking. Inevitably, human-wildlife interactions have become more frequent and severe in Africa due to increased competition for land in previously wild and uninhabited areas (Lamarque et al., 2009). There is increasing pressure and competition for space and resources between humans and wildlife. This can mainly be attributed to human population growth; increased pressure for access to land; expansions of transport routes, settlements, agricultural, and industrial activities, and increased demand for natural resources. Forest ecosystems are under immense additional pressure from agriculture, logging, and various illegal activities (such as charcoal production or poaching), all of which are contributing to the fragmentation of habitats.

It begs the question: where does wildlife fit into this new world of limited space and resources available for their survival?

Human-wildlife conflict is commonly described as the conflict that occurs between people and wildlife; actions by humans or wildlife that have an adverse effect on the other; threats posed by wildlife to human life, economic security, or recreation; or the perception that wildlife threatens human safety, health, food, and property (Nyhus, 2016). The term wildlife is defined broadly as non-domesticated plants and animals, although domesticated and feral animals are sometimes included in the human-wildlife conflict literature. Wildlife damage management is defined as the science and art of diminishing the negative consequences of wildlife while maintaining or enhancing their positive aspects and is often synonymous with human-wildlife conflict mitigation.

Interactions range over a spectrum of encounter types – ranging from strongly negative to strongly positive – relating to intensity (minor – severe) and frequency (rare – common).

Examples of What Negative Encounters Could Look Like:

  •       Low intensity, yet high frequency: rodents eating stored food produce – This is arguably universally accepted as part of daily life in many parts of the World.

Vs.

  •       High intensity yet low frequency: leopard attacks on people – This triggers extreme reactions from communities and evokes real fear for human life.

As such, relationships with wildlife are impacted, formed, and driven by various social, psychological, and physical factors ranging from; diverse cultural and emotional experiences, economics, governance, and stakeholder engagement. Human-wildlife ‘conflict’ may also involve human-human conflicts among different stakeholder groups and include variations in perceived threats to lifestyles, values, worldviews, and social, economic, and political debates on how to, and whether to coexist with wildlife. For example, the opinion of the rural farmer who relies on his maize crop as his primary income being crop raided by elephants or hippos is very different from the opinions and feelings of a tourist who has an ideal ‘safari’ vision of what African life looks like. It’s important that both sides of this interaction with wildlife are heard.

Another contributing factor to human-wildlife conflict comes down to risk perception and the perception of risk; the actual degree of risk; and the proportional reaction to the risk do not align. Risk perception is influenced by various factors, such as cultural values, histories and ideologies, intrinsic dread, and risk novelty.

A good example is: large, visible, and potentially dangerous species, such as elephants may generate disproportionate concern even if species such as rodents or invertebrates actually cause more damage over a longer period. A study of tiger killing behavior in the Sundarbans found that retaliatory killing for attacks on people or livestock or previous negative experiences with tigers may be less important than diverse socio-psychological factors, including risk perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, perceived failings of local authorities, and perceived personal rewards, and contextual factors (e.g., the severity and location of tiger incidents). Additionally, how conflicts are framed by the media can play a huge role in shaping public opinion. Education is critical, both amongst those co-existing with wildlife, and on a wider scale – for international audiences, to help improve media knowledge and how the audience receives stories on human-wildlife conflict. This could go a long way to encourage behaviors that reduce risks and perceived risks of conflict. Enforcement may keep people outside of protected areas, but there needs to be both long-term education programs and investment into enforcement, both of which require long-term commitments from conservation organizations, national governments, and the communities that have to live it.

The historical context of any given conflict is also important. In Europe, many communities have had a long history of coexisting with carnivores and have developed livestock husbandry techniques, such as shepherding and night corrals, and policies, such as stable land tenure and strong legal protection, that promote coexistence. Conversely, in the American West, after a century without large carnivores following widespread eradication, local communities may perceive the return of large carnivores as contradicting recalled historical values, recollections, and actions.

In rural areas, increased agricultural activities have been attributed to increased conflict, but poor livestock husbandry and management practices in particular often contribute to high levels of livestock depredation. Seasonal changes in livestock husbandry, such as lambing and calving periods or the movement of livestock into vulnerable locations*, can increase risk, whereas daily peaks in human activity can reduce risk. In and around urban areas, human-wildlife conflict is responsible for a large amount of damage and costs associated with mitigation and prevention, including lethal conflicts and nonlethal nuisance conflicts such as damage to landscaping and gardens, fouling of public spaces and noise, and raiding of garbage bins. Urban environments are notorious sources of urban mortality for wildlife, including from roads, collisions with buildings and other structures, depredation, and disease. Animals that move into human-dominated landscapes may show different behaviors than those in more natural landscapes (e.g., if they perceive humans as top predators), and may have more access to human-provided food, potentially increasing opportunities for conflict. Various mitigation techniques have been developed over the years – both non-lethal and lethal (such as relocation and community education and sensitization). However, lethal mitigation measures are implemented (usually as the last option) when it comes to concern for human life.

Protected areas, such as the REDD+ community forests under the LZRP and LCFP, are the cornerstones of modern biodiversity conservation and go some way to protecting species (Bruner et al., 2001). Testament to this, in 2022 The Zambian Carnivore Programme documented the first recorded dispersal of wild dogs from the Luangwa Valley into Mozambique and back into Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park, demonstrating the critical need to safeguard the wild dogs’ habitat in the Luangwa to Lower Zambezi valleys (read the full article here). However, they do not completely resolve human-wildlife ‘conflicts’ as they cannot always exclude destructive human impacts that are inevitable through coexistence. (Liu et al., 2001). Equally, protected areas often only protect a part of an ecosystem or species range, and wildlife dispersal from such areas may increase conflict with humans in neighboring boundaries (Woodroffe & Ginsberg, 1998). Even as alternative forms of land use, such as wildlife tourism, are implemented in an attempt to derive sustainable benefits from wildlife, conflict may remain because there is still a level of interaction and coexistence required (Roe et al., 1997; Goodwin et al., 1998).

Conflict vs Co-existence – Language Matters!

Humans and wildlife can co-exist, but there will always be extremes within this co-existence/co-occupancy. We as humans need to adapt how we are willing to live and interact with our natural surroundings, in the very same ways that wildlife does to coexist with us. In both scenarios of conflict vs co-existence, the implication is that peaceful co-existence is the goal of conflict management or resolution processes. Given the complexity of human-wildlife relationships, and realizing that human-human conflicts are almost always part of conflicts about wildlife (such as the argument between conservation vs preservation philosophies), representing the relationship between conflict and coexistence as either mutually exclusive scenarios or extreme opposites on a ‘peace – conflict’ scale, could be problematic. While far more antagonistic, the use of ‘conflict’ could be interpreted as an agent for change, which for many having to co-exist with wildlife could (understandably) be the desired option. How we, as humans, see wildlife and the ‘risk’ factor that they bring to human existence within the shared space, will determine the outcome of interaction – be it negative conflict or we find ways from a ground-up to a global level to support positive co-existence. Many experts warn that a Sixth Mass Extinction crisis is underway, this time entirely caused by human activities. If we want to preserve ecosystems, prevent habitat loss, and save species from extinction, it might be time to reevaluate how we, as a global community, can support communities on the ground to understand and address human-wildlife coexistence and start by how we can define this need to coexist and interact in a way that does not come with negative connotations.

*’Vulnerable areas’ are buffer areas between protected areas and villages, and wildlife corridors (any areas that could overlap movements between livestock and wildlife). De-predation overlap between carnivores and livestock and disease overlap between wildlife and livestock/domestic animals. For example:

Buffalo and cattle = brucelosis, FMD,

Wildebeest and cattle =  African Catheral fever

Domestic dogs and wilddogs = rabies, canine distempe.

References:

Managing human–wildlife conflicts in central and southern Africa J.-C. Nguinguiri, R. Czudek, C. Julve Larrubia, L. Ilama, S. Le Bel, E.J. Angoran, J.F. Trebuchon and D. Cornelis.

Spatial and temporal dynamics of human–wildlife conflicts in the Kenya Greater Tsavo Ecosystem Joseph M. Mukeka, Kenya Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 40241-00100, Nairobi, Kenya; and Department of Biology, NTNU Gløshaugen, 7491 Trondheim, Norway mukekajoe@yahoo.com Joseph O. Ogutu, University of Hohenheim, Institute of Crop Science, Biostatistics Unit, Fruwirthstrasse 23, Stuttgart, Germany Erustus Kanga, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, P.O. Box 30126-00100, Nairobi, Kenya Eivin Røskaft, Department of Biology, NTNU Gløshaugen, 7491 Trondheim, Norway.

Coexistence Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Vol. 41:143-171 (Volume publication date November 2016, First published online as a Review in Advance on September 1, 2016, Philip J. Nyhus Environmental Studies Program, Colby College, Waterville, Maine.

Conflict Is Integral to Human-Wildlife Coexistence Catherine M. Hill*.

Chipembele HWC educational material.

 

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Marilet Louw

Conservation Manager

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Chloe Evans

Communication Manager

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