With shifting morals, and increasing knowledge of our impact on biodiversity and its consequences for people, achieving coexistence between people and wildlife has been increasingly the goal of many projects and policies worldwide, over the last half a century. Nonetheless, high degrees of conflict continue to date, threatening the conservation of many species.
Using the general term “human-wildlife conflict” is problematic because this would imply that animals are conscious human antagonists. In reality, conflict generally occurs between people that hold different views and interests over the conservation of a particular species. It would thus be more appropriate to talk about human-human conflicts over wildlife conservation issues, which is the field of study of the human dimensions of wildlife conservation1. In contrast, when we refer specifically to the conservation issues that arise from the damage that wildlife causes to people, such as the raiding of crops or the killing of livestock, then we may refer to human-wildlife impacts. It is useful to separate the two, because their underlying issues are fundamentally different, and so are the strategies for their mitigation.
Baboons run past a vineyard on the Constantia Uitsig wine estate on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. Winemakers say rampaging troops of primates are munching on their fill of premium grapes. Image Credits: https://nbcnews.to/2k753CQ
While mitigating the impact of wildlife on people’s livelihoods may involve the construction of fences, or the implementation of incentives and compensation payments, resolving the conflict emerging from contrasting views and values between different stakeholders may be a lot harder and less straight-forward. In fact, this would often entail changing community values, perceptions, cultures and traditions to ones that would be less impactful on the conservation of the species2. In this case, we’re dealing with more abstract issues than the ones relating to human-wildlife impacts, for which practical solutions are more or less readily available.
Beehive Fences in East Africa Protect Farms from Elephants. Image Credits: https://bit.ly/2NbvBAB
Poaching is a classic example of how people negatively impact wildlife. Compared to hunting which is – at least in theory – regulated to ensure avoiding the overexploitation of wildlife, poaching is unregulated, illegal, and it can severely impact the conservation of wildlife populations. There are many reasons why poaching occurs, which could be succinctly categorised into poaching for wildlife trade purposes or poaching not for wildlife trade purposes. The former category refers to issues such as those concerning pangolins, which are being overexploited and are on the brink of extinction mainly because people trade their scales for traditional medicine3. A similar situation is that of elephants and rhinos in Africa, which are poached for their tusks and horns respectively4,5.
MONG LA, MYANMAR – FEBRUARY 17: A pangolin skin is displayed amongst other exotic and illegal animal parts at a stall on February 17, 2016 in Mong La, Myanmar. Image Credits: https://bit.ly/2mahcI5
Poaching reasons that do not entail wildlife trade are broader. The illegal killing of wildlife by local communities to defy authorities is a notorious example, whereby the act of poaching is performed as a show of protest by rural people to express their anger, disconcert, and disapproval towards the policies and work implemented by the managing authorities, or “urban elites”, which are often seen as placing the interests of wildlife before those of rural people. Bushmeat is another reason, though mostly concerning developing countries, where villagers poach endangered wildlife to feed the mouth of their increasing population6. It is evident how these issues, which come under the umbrella of the human-human conflict described above, are more complex and challenging to resolve than the issues relating to the damage caused by wildlife to people’s properties.
Ultimately, our ability to find the right balance and mitigate these issues may be key in determining whether or not the wildlife that roams Earth today will still be around in a few decades. Globally, people are “at war” over the issue of wildlife conservation, with conflicting interests and socio-economic values that are difficult to settle and find compromises for. Current international and local legislation is often supportive of preserving, rather than exploiting nature, including through the push for a more sustainable and green development.
Interdisciplinary groups of scientists are increasingly working with policy makers, local communities, NGOs, and many other groups to address this issue across world’s regions. Two governance approaches are being adopted to conserve threatened species and nature in general: top-down, or bottom-up7. The former concerns governments taking the lead, informed by science, to implement legislation and enforce laws that look after vulnerable wildlife. The latter entails large communication and cooperation with the local communities to come up with more wildlife-friendly ways that would benefit both them and nature, and to inform policy through the consultation of local leaders. Which of these approaches is looking to be most effective may be the topic for another essay.
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- Redpath, S.M., Young, J., Evely, A., Adams, W.M., Sutherland, W.J., Whitehouse, A., Amar, A., Lambert, R.A., Linnell, J.D., Watt, A. and Gutierrez, R.J., 2013. Understanding and managing conservation conflicts. Trends in ecology & evolution, 28(2), pp.100-109.
- Redpath, S.M., Bhatia, S. and Young, J., 2015. Tilting at wildlife: reconsidering human–wildlife conflict. Oryx, 49(2), pp.222-225.
Cover Image credits: https://bit.ly/2m8mcNg