Human–wildlife conflict refers to the interaction between wild animals and people and the resultant negative impact on people or their resources, or wild animals or their habitat. It occurs when growing human populations overlap with established wildlife territory, creating reduction of resources or life to some people and/or wild animals. The conflict takes many forms ranging from loss of life or injury to humans, and animals both wild and domesticated, to competition for scarce resources to loss and degradation of habitat.
Conflict management strategies earlier comprised lethal control, translocation, regulation of population size and preservation of endangered species. Recent management approaches attempt to use scientific research for better management outcomes, such as behaviour modification and reducing interaction. As human-wildlife conflicts inflict direct, indirect and opportunity costs, the mitigation of human-wildlife conflict is an important issue in the management of biodiversity and protected areas.
Human–wildlife conflict is defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) as "any interaction between humans and wildlife that results in negative impacts on human social, economic or cultural life, on the conservation of wildlife populations, or on the environment."
The Creating Co-existence workshop at the 5th Annual World Parks Congress (8–17 September 2003, Montreal) defined human-wildlife conflict in the context of human goals and animal needs as follows: “Human-wildlife conflict occurs when the needs and behavior of wildlife impact negatively on the goals of humans or when the goals of humans negatively impact the needs of wildlife."
A 2007 review by the United States Geological Survey defines human-wildlife conflict in two contexts; firstly, actions by wildlife conflict with human goals, i.e. life, livelihood and life-style, and, secondly, human activities threaten the safety and survival of wildlife. However, in both cases, outcomes are decided by human responses to the interactions.
The Government of Yukon defines human-wildlife conflict simply, but through the lens of damage to property, i.e. "any interaction between wildlife and humans which causes harm, whether it’s to the human, the wild animal, or property." Here, property includes buildings, equipment and camps, livestock and pets, but does not include crops, fields or fences.
Human–wildlife conflicts have occurred throughout man's prehistory and recorded history. Amongst the early forms of human-wildlife conflict is the predation of the ancestors of prehistoric man by a number of predators of the Miocene such as saber-toothed cats, leopards, spotted hyenas amongst others.
Fossil remains of early hominids show evidence of predation; the Taung Child, the fossilised skull of a young Australopithecus africanus, is thought to have been killed by an eagle from the distinct marks on its skull and the fossil having been found amongst egg shells and remains of small animals.
A Plio-Pleistocene horned crocodile, Crocodylus anthropophagus, whose fossil remains have been recorded from Olduvai Gorge, was the largest predator encountered by prehistoric man, as indicated by hominid specimens preserving crocodile bite marks from these sites.
The advent of farming and animal husbandry of the Neolithic Revolution increased the scope of conflict between humans and animals. The crops and the produce formed an abundant and easily obtained food source for wild animals. Wild herbivores competed with domesticated ones for pasture. In addition, they were a source for diseases which affected livestock. The livestock attracted predators which found them an easy source to prey on. The inevitable human reaction was to eliminate such threats to agriculture and domesticated animals. In addition, land was converted to agricultural and other uses and forests cleared, all of which impacted wild animals adversely. A number of animal species were eliminated locally or from parts of their natural range. The deliberate or accidental introduction of animals in isolated island animal communities have caused extinction of a large number of species.
Nature of human-wildlife conflicts
As human populations expand into wild animal habitats, natural wildlife territory is displaced. Reduction in the availability of natural prey/food sources leads to wild animals seeking alternate sources. Alternately, new resources created by humans draw wildlife resulting in conflict. The population density of wildlife and humans increase with overlaps in geographical areas used increasing their interaction thus resulting in increased physical conflict. Byproducts of human existence offer un-natural opportunity for wildlife in the form of food and shelter, resulting in increased interference and potentially destructive threat for both man and animals. Competition for food resources also occurs when humans attempt to harvest natural resources such as fish and grassland pasture.
Outcomes of conflict
Human–wildlife conflict occurs with various negative results. The major outcomes of human-wildlife conflict are:
- Injury and loss of life of humans and wildlife.
- Crop damage, livestock depredation, predation of managed wildlife stock.
- Damage to human property.
- Trophic cascades.
- Destruction of habitat.
- Collapse of wildlife populations and reduction of geographic ranges.
Hidden Dimensions of Conflict
Human wildlife conflict also has a range of 'hidden' dimensions that are not typically factored in when the focus is on visible impacts. These can include health impacts, opportunity and transaction costs. Case studies include work on elephants in northeast India, where elephant-man interactions are seen to lead to cases of increased imbibing of alcohol by crop guardians with resultant enhanced mortality in encounters., and issues related to gender in northern India.
Conflict resolution or management
The aim of conflict resolution or management is to reduce the potential for human-wildlife conflicts in order to protect life and limb, safety and security of animal populations, habitat and general biodiversity, and also to minimise damage to property. The preference is always for passive, non-intrusive prevention measures but often active intervention is required to be carried out in conjunction.
Management techniques of wildlife are of two types. The first type are the traditional techniques which aim to stop, reduce or minimise conflict by controlling animal populations in different ways. Lethal control has the longest history but has major drawbacks. Other measures, less costly in terms of life, are trans-location, regulation and preservation of animal populations. Modern methods depend upon the understanding of ecological and ethological understanding of the wildlife and its environment to prevent or minimise conflict; examples being behavioural modification and measures to reduce interaction between humans and wildlife.
Potential solutions to these conflicts include electric fencing, land use planning, community-based natural resource management (CBNRM), compensation, payment for environmental services, ecotourism, wildlife friendly products, or other field solutions.
In efforts to reduce human-wildlife conflict, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has partnered with a number of organizations to provide solutions around the globe. Their solutions are tailored to the community and species involved. For example, in Mozambique, communities started to grow more chili pepper plants after making the discovery that elephants dislike and avoid plants containing capsaicin. This creative and effective method prevents elephants from trampling community farmers' fields as well as protects the species.
- Aldo Leopold
- Biophilia hypothesis
- Disturbance (ecology)
- Grey Owl
- Human impact on the environment
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- World Wide Fund for Nature