Hundreds of representatives from conservation organisations, academia, governments, businesses and indigenous and local communities from six continents and 70 countries met for the International Conference on Human-Wildlife Conflict and Coexistence, hosted by the IUCN at Oxford University, England, between 30 March and 1 April 2023.
This event also saw the publication of the IUCN SSC Guidelines on Human-Wildlife Conflict and Coexistence, which will inform the creation of urgently-needed national policies and support action on the ground.
“Human-wildlife conflict presents a challenge in every country worldwide, with disagreements over how to coexist with wildlife leading to stalemates and eroding support for protecting nature. Effectively managing how humans interact with wildlife is fundamental to achieving conservation goals, as highlighted in the recently agreed Global Biodiversity Framework,” said Dr Alexandra Zimmermann, Chair of the IUCN SSC Human-Wildlife Conflict and Coexistence Specialist Group and Senior Research Fellow at the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Oxford University.
“This event, the largest ever convening of human-wildlife conflict and coexistence experts from around the world, is vital to supporting all those working towards enabling coexistence with wildlife and to achieving this component of the Framework by 2030.”
This important gathering generated a great amount of information which can be accessed here: https://www.hwcconference.org/Conference-Programme. At this website you will also find 85 pages of abstracts of the numerous and diverse contributions from attendees from many corners of the planet. Human-Wildlife conflicts include a wide variety of wild species, from carnivores, cranes and cormorants to elephants, snakes, crocodiles, bears, baboons and more. The subject should be of interest to hunters, who will often meet with members of rural communities during their time in the field, in Africa or on other continents. The topic of human-wildlife conflict is bound to be raised around many a campfire!
The tolerance that rural communities extend to wild animals can be enhanced through managing human-wildlife conflicts through various interventions. And, of course, if wildlife species are financially beneficial to these communities, if they are sought after and paid for by hunters, for example, they will attain even higher levels of tolerance because of their monetary value. Communities that derive benefits from hunted species will always prefer that outcome rather than the simplistic elimination of the ‘problem species’ from their environment, without any benefits.
The subject matter covered in this conference is vast, so apart from encouraging readers to visit the website and browse through the abstracts, I have selected just three excerpts from the abstracts to give you an idea of some of the interesting subjects that were presented at the meeting.
Understanding CBNRM in Namibia
Save the Rhino Trust Ranger Namibia with zebra-carcass. © Marcus Westberg
Tavolaro, F.M.1,2, O’Riain, M.J.1 , Brown, C.2 , Redpath, S.M.3
1 Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), University of Cape Town, South Africa 2Namibian Chamber of Environment, Namibia 3 School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom
Mitigating human-wildlife conflicts is a top priority in conservation, but to ensure it is sustainable one must first understand the drivers and then empower local communities to take responsibility. For instance, people’s tolerance and attitudes towards wildlife may be influenced by how different species negatively impact their livelihoods or by their knowledge and understanding of them. Furthermore, according to the theory of planned behaviour (TPB), human behaviour is guided by three predictors (i.e. attitudes, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control) which tend to change from one behaviour to another in terms of importance. One can use the TPB model to investigate why people make specific decisions about a behaviour (e.g. killing problem animals) and then learn which predictor is most important for that behaviour and which predictor needs to be the target of behaviour change interventions. The community-based natural resources management (CBNRM) system, which links conservation to poverty alleviation through sustainable use of natural resources, is a key development strategy for rural Namibia and many claim it has greatly increased the coexistence of communities with wildlife. We are currently carrying out a mixed-method questionnaire across conservancies to assess community member’s attitudes and tolerance of wildlife. We include the TPB with regards to retaliatory killing of problem animals, as well as quantify people’s perceived costs and benefits of living in a conservancy alongside wildlife. The overall goal of our research is to better understand and tackle conservation conflicts in Namibian communal conservancies. By better integrating the underpinning social context with the material impacts and evaluation of conflicts across communal conservancies, we hope to enhance effective conflict management and long-term conservation benefits.
Mitigating HWC caused by institutional mismatch: Addressing value conflicts in international wildlife trade policy
Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes1 , Francis Vorhies2
1 School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford 2African Wildlife Economy Institute, Stellenbosch University
Southern Africa has a relatively impressive track record of conserving dangerous and endangered animal species such as rhinos, elephants and lions. To mitigate HWC, Southern African conservation agencies have employed a range of effective measures: from simply erecting fences to developing institutional arrangements that enable varying degrees of private and communal wildlife ownership, accompanied by consequent benefit flows from sustainable harvest and trade of wildlife products. In specific instances, such as for Namibia’s communal conservancies and South Africa’s private nature reserves and wildlife ranches, these approaches have demonstrated very clear success in significantly expanding the ranges of species that would not otherwise be tolerated by local rural communities outside of fenced public protected areas. However, these gains are now under threat and even in retreat, following increasingly restrictive and unpredictable international trade policy interventions promoted and imposed by various state and non-state actors, through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and related initiatives. Such interventions may be influenced by ignorance of Southern African wildlife conservation and trade mechanisms, conflicting values relating to wildlife utilisation, or a combination of both. To avoid inevitable consequent increases in localised HWC, such as those recently experienced in Botswana, these conflictual international trade policy interventions must be addressed effectively. This paper highlights the main areas of concern, including inherent structural problems within the CITES mechanism. It will further discuss attempts to address the conflict to date, consider unexplored avenues for research and experimentation with policy conflict mitigation and propose a way forward.
Success of vertically hanging electric fence to mitigate human-elephant conflict
1Department of Bio-Science, Vavuniya Campus of the University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka 2The Wiiliam H. Darr School of Agriculture, Missouri State University, USA
The electric fence is the best solution to live side by side with wild elephants rather that co-existing to share the same resources. The current horizontal electric fence (HEF) has become unsuccessful against the wild elephants. Both in Africa and Asia, the intelligent, desperate wild elephants have learnt to break HEF by various means; by pushing or pulling the unprotected supporting poles, pulling the neutral wire that runs in between the charged hot wires and dropping heavy objects on to the fence. Tuskers use their tusk to break this fence effortlessly. The solution is vertically hanging electric fence (VHEF). Here the horizontal wires are placed at higher elevation (above 15 feet) on an extending arm of an upside down “L” shaped post. Then the vertical, straight hot wires are hung downwards at 1 m interval, in two rows, which stop at 4 feet above the ground. The VHEF has already been installed in three locations in Sri Lanka for more than two years where the HEF was ineffective for many years. The fence has proved 100% success so far. The VHEF has number of advantages over the HEF. In VHEF, the hanging wires cannot be pushed or pulled even with the tusks as the one end of the wires are free and have no attachments. The earth wire is shallowly buried outside the fence, where the elephant expected to stand. This is to maximize the electric flow during the driest season. When elephant come into contact with multiple points, it gets confused and unable to break the fence. The pole cannot be reached as it is 8 feet away from the hanging hot wires. People and their livestock can move across the fence as there are enough space in between the wires, it is impermeable only to wild elephants.
While this meeting has been hailed as the first global gathering of its kind, work on resolving human-wildlife conflict has been undertaken in southern Africa for quite a long time. In the 1980s, the Endangered Wildlife Trust was involved in a pilot project that persuaded wildlife tourism companies to contribute to an insurance scheme whereby livestock owners would be compensated for their animals killed by carnivores, to discourage them from killing the carnivores themselves.
The work of Philip Stander over several decades pioneered the use of satellite collars fitted to lions to provide an early warning network for livestock farmers about lions entering their areas. Using signals and maps received on their mobile phones, livestock farmers are alerted to potential lion incursions and can take appropriate action to prevent livestock losses. As the population of desert lions increases in Namibia, the same system is being used to track lions approaching resorts on the Atlantic coast, thus decreasing the potential for potentially dangerous and possibly fatal human-wildlife contacts.
A better understanding of human-wildlife conflicts, and innovative ways to resolve them, will surely benefit the wildlife and biodiversity of Africa as the future growth of the human population on the continent seems inevitable.
Dr John Ledger is a past Director of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, now a consultant, writer and teacher on the environment, energy and wildlife; he is a columnist for the African Hunting Gazette. He lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. John.Ledger@wol.co.za