On more than half the planet, humans and wild animals compete for resources. It's possible to manage this conflict, WWF and UNEP say, if we cooperate globally, involving stakeholders and looking out for the welfare of both humans and wildlife.
Humans across the globe encounter wildlife in their daily lives on a regular basis, be they massive elephants, or smaller animals such as raccoons. Some of these meetings are –barely– tolerated while others create conflict, leading to the obliteration of wildlife which threatens to throw off the balance of the ecosystem.
Nilanga Jayasinghe is a manager on the wildlife conservation team at WWF and one of the authors on A Future for All: The Need for Human Wildlife Coexistence. She tells TRT World that a key finding of the joint WWF-UNEP report is that the conflict between people and wildlife is one of the main threats to the long-term survival of some of the world’s most iconic species.
“Combine that with many of the other threats that they face from poaching to illegal wildlife trade to habitat loss, to other numerous threats that they face in the wild, adding human conflict really increases the threat level to these iconic species.”
Jayasinghe says that while the first animals to come to mind are “some of the most charismatic species” such as Asian or African elephants, tigers, lions, polar bears, the issue of human-wildlife conflict (HWC) is common all over the world, even with smaller animals.
“If you look at the fact that a raccoon can come into your backyard and rifle through your garbage can, that’s human-wildlife conflict. If a fox comes into your hen coop and steals one of your hens, that’s human-wildlife conflict,” she explains. “So while we talk about big iconic species, this is really common to many many species all over the world. It’s a common issue globally, to all of us.”
Emphasising the global nature of HWC, Jayasingha says it’s everywhere – not just rural places but in urban settings as well, yet some communities bear the brunt. She points out that “those that are most significantly impacted by the issue are the communities that are most often marginalised in the world that live alongside wildlife in the many rural areas. So they actually suffer the most costs of us all in terms of addressing and dealing with human wildlife conflict.”
Human-wildlife conflict is inevitable, as humans share more than half the Earth’s surface with wildlife, where our presence overlaps. Jayasingha notes “that means that those encounters are going to be more frequent, and as populations grow and there’s more need for space, there will be some competition there for the use of space and resources. So there is a likelihood of human wildlife conflict escalating over time.”
Jayasingha refers to the report where more than 150 researchers from all over the world discuss, among other topics, the importance of implementing holistic and integrated solutions, addressing the issue by not just looking at one aspect of conflict management or another but putting together and using a whole suite of tools and activities and actions to really be able to effectively manage HWC sustainable well into the future.
“It’s a very nuanced complex issue that’s very multi-faceted,” Jayasingha confesses. She mentions that the context of human-wildlife conflict can be very different from place to place, “even if it’s the same country, even if it’s the same region from village to village [it] can vary based on the context in which it is happening on the ground.”
Her suggestion? Understanding the situation, putting in measures that actually help manage and reduce the conflict, underlaid by beneficial policies that help move effective conflict management forward. She believes in monitoring the conflict to see “if your actions are effective, if it’s [HWC] going down over time, what can be improved, what can be done.” She also believes that the needs of the community should be addressed by development agencies who are working with them.
“Addressing is possible if we take these very broad, very integrated and holistic approaches but also come together as a community. The global community must really recognise that this is an issue and come together to address it as a collective. We think that’s really the best way that we can have a sustainable impact.”
Asked about the possibility of peaceful human-wildlife coexistence, Jayasingha says it is a spectrum. One one end there are communities that are just tolerating wildlife in the area. On the opposite end, there are communities “very much willing” to live with wildlife in peaceful coexistence, where effective measures have been put in place. She says that while it is “not really possible” to get rid of human-wildlife conflict, there are definitely ways to address, reduce and manage it.
As an example, she refers to the case study from the Kavango-Zambezi transfrontier conservation area (KAZA) in Southern Africa where an integrated approach to managing wildlife led to a 95 percent reduction in livestock killing by lions which also resulted in zero retaliatory killings of lions. She is enthusiastic about this instance, as it brought concrete results: Livestock degradation was reduced, lion populations flourished again.
She also mentions that if you take out one species like a top predator such as a lion from an ecosystem, then it has knock-on effects on the other species in that food chain. “So when the big predators are gone, the species right next to it like the baboons or any other species they may normally prey on, the population will flourish. And then they can cause a lot of damage to crops, property…”
She describes a win-win scenario for humans and animals as getting to a point where human wildlife conflict is managed to a degree that there is a level of coexistence. She says that they ideally want peaceful coexistence but can attempt to get to coexistence at some level, admitting that “there are no silver bullets” to address an issue like human-wildlife conflict but progress is certainly possible.
“We have to look at this from both angles in this situation,” she remarks, adding they want to make sure that any solutions that are put in place benefit both humans and animals. She also believes that engagement with communities and other stakeholders is very important, as she believes it is vital that any solutions are developed in partnership with them. “They have to have ownership for whatever’s being put in place, she says, “so that they see the benefits it will bring them down the road.”
Thumbnail photo: Courtesy of Minzayar Oo / WWF-US
Headline photo: Courtesy of Ofelia De Pablo y Javier Zurita/ WWF Spain