1 Tahrcountry Musings: ‘Coexistence with wildlife'

Friday, July 08, 2016

‘Coexistence with wildlife'

As the population of human being burgeons most species of large carnivores and large herbivores depend on being able to occupy human-dominated landscapes for survival. This invariably leads to conflicts between humans and wildlife. Researchers  Neil Carter, assistant professor in the Human-Environment Systems Research Center in the College of Innovation and Design at Boise State, and John Linnell, a senior research scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, say, there is a need to develop a more nuanced and realistic understanding of what this state looks like. They have recently published a paper titled “Co-Adaptation Is Key to Coexisting with Large Carnivores” in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.  The paper is based on real life situations in North America, Europe and Asia on species such as wolves, tigers, leopards, lynx and bears. 
The researchers note that large carnivores need larger ranges than many protected areas afford. This means that carnivores often come in contact with human populations that are sometimes less than welcoming. They suggest that mutual adaptations is the key to success, implying that not only do wild animals have to behaviourally adapt to the presence of humans, but humans also have to adapt their behavior to the presence of wild animals.
Studies conducted by the authors and their colleagues have shown that many species of large carnivores show an incredible ability to occupy heavily modified human-dominated landscapes. Many human societies also show a wide range of adaptations to the proximity of large carnivores. This includes changes to the way they keep livestock and the adoption of cultural or religious practices to "negotiate" their relationship with their wild neighbours. However, in many areas these adaptations have been lost, either due to a temporary absence of large carnivores or in the face of changing social-economic situations. The result is often severe conflicts of both an economic and social nature.The necessity of adaptation by both humans and the carnivores is a key first step towards transforming conflict to coexistence. Conservation efforts that fail to focus on both halves of the equation are doomed to fail.
A factor for success has to do with realising that a state of coexistence does not involve an idealized absence of conflict. Rather than trying to eliminate all risk, which can mean eliminating a species, the authors explore ways to keep risks below tolerable levels. That involves understanding what factors influence tolerance. While some communities may not tolerate any risks from carnivores, others may tolerate high risks because they attribute carnivores with ecological and cultural benefits that exceed those risks. In many communities, the priorities of various stakeholder groups are still sometimes at odds, and there is a reduced trust in authorities. Interventions such as new policies must take into account local concerns, the authors say, such as the adoption of novel decision-making strategies that give voice to varying viewpoints.
The researchers believe that the challenges are surmountable through the help of community leaders, conservation organizations, and state or federal agencies. Insights from studies on coexistence "can help reconcile debates about carnivore conservation in shared landscapes and advance broader discourses in conservation," they wrote, "such as those related to rewilding, novel ecosystems, and land-sharing vs. land-sparing."
"In many ways large carnivores represent the ultimate test for human willingness to make space for wildlife on a shared planet. If it is possible to find ways to coexist with these species, it should be possible to coexist with any species", says John Linnell, co-author on the study.

A major chunk of the post is reprinted from materials provided by Norwegian Institute for Nature Research

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