What Is Human-Wildlife Conflict?

Two moose bulls crossing road in Denali National Park.
Two moose bulls crossing road in Denali National Park.

Human-wildlife conflict (HWC) refers to the interaction between humans and wildlife that negatively affect humans or wildlife. Human-wildlife conflict is always experienced when human populations grow and encroach on wildlife established territory, and therefore reducing resources for wildlife. The conflict between wildlife and humans come in different forms and could range from loss of human life, death of wildlife, injury of humans, or wild animals as they compete for scarce resources. The conflict would also affect domesticated animals. Previously, conflict management approaches included lethal control, regulation of population, translocation, and preservation of endangered species. However, in the recent past, management techniques have been employed to use scientific research for better outcomes and include approaches such as behavioral modification to reduce the interaction between people and wild animals.

History of human-wildlife conflict

Human-wildlife conflicts have been experienced throughout human history. Some of the earliest forms of human-wildlife conflict can be traced back to the prehistoric man in the Miocene era with the Sabertooth cats, among other animals. The fossils of early hominids have indicated evidence of predation. For instance, the study of the fossil skull of Australopithecus africanus, the Taung child, indicates that the individual was killed by one of the extinct eagles. The distinct markings on the skull and the fossilized eggshells are evidence of an eagle attack. The largest predator believed to have been encountered by early humans is the Crocodylus anthropophagus, the horned crocodile of the Plio-Pleistocene era. The hominid fossils found in Olduvai Gorge showed preserved crocodile bite marks. When humans started practicing animal husbandry and farming, during the Neolithic Revolution, it increased the conflict between humans and wild animals. The cultivated crops became a natural source of food for the wild animals, and similarly, wild animals were competing with domestic animals for pasture. The livestock attracted predators that found them easy prey. Humans eliminated animals that pose a threat to agriculture and domestic animals.

The need for development as the cause of human-wildlife conflict

The conflict between wild animals and humans has been experienced from time immemorial. In regions such as Africa, conflicts between humans and wild animals have become more severe and frequent in the recent past as a result of population growth. Expansion of transport networks and the need for expanding agricultural land together with other industrial activities have all contributed towards encroaching on previously uninhabited and wild areas. The need for human development has been the primary cause of human-wildlife conflict across the world. Savannas, forests, and other ecosystems have been transformed into agricultural areas or changed into urban centers as a result of the increase in demand for food, land, energy, and raw materials. This has significantly affected wildlife habitats. For instance, in Africa, the population has almost tripled in four decades, starting from the 1960s.

Migration as the cause of human-wildlife conflict

The migration of people seeking security or food has always led to conflict between wildlife and humans. Incidences such as civil unrest, floods, droughts, wars, and other natural disasters have always displaced people and disrupted ordinary production and distribution of foods, which led to famines. According to FAO, this phenomenon is on the rise, and the number of food emergencies, particularly in Africa, has almost tripled each year since the 1980s. These factors have created a continuous migration of rural people into regions where resources are available, and these are the areas often occupied by wildlife. As people settle in wildlife habitats, the conflict with wild animals is inevitable. It is estimated that more than 120,000 people in Mozambique displaced by the civil war have sought refuge in protected areas.

Global trends on human-wildlife conflict

The growth of the human population and the associated human activities have significantly altered the face of our planet. Urbanization is one of the leading anthropogenic forces, and presently for the first time in human history, the world population is now more urban than rural. The intensification of agriculture globally has had a significant impact on the natural ecosystems around the world. It is estimated that the growth of agriculture will accelerate, and farmlands are expected to increase by about 200 to 300 million hectares by 2050. This growth will have a massive impact on wildlife, and it will reduce their habitats further. Globally, livestock occupies about 30% of the ice-free terrestrial surface area of the planet and contributes more than $1.4 trillion to the world economy. Livestock accounts for about one-third of the world's agricultural GDP and employs about 1.3 billion people while supporting livelihoods of more than 600 million smallholder farmers mainly in the developing world. Populations of livestock are one of the leading economic and ecological forces in the world, and the growth of livestock globally is the primary driver of human-wildlife conflict in most regions.

Different incidences

Vehicle-deer collisions are the most common wildlife and human safety challenges facing residences in North America and Europe. It is estimated that 30,000 people are injured every year and 200 more are killed each year in about 500,000 collisions in Europe, and between 1 million and 1.5 million collisions in the US. These collisions lead to annual damages that exceed $1 billion in North America, and it represents the most significant cause of mortality of deer after hunting. In the US, traffic on roads is responsible for about 89 to 340 million deaths of birds every year. Since 1988, wildlife aircraft collisions, which have involved more than 229 aircraft, have caused deaths to more than 250 people. Between 1990 and 2012, about 97% of the 131,096 collisions between wildlife and aircraft were caused by birds and has led to direct and indirect annual losses of about $957 million.

Management of human-wildlife

There are different ways of managing human-wildlife conflict. The traditional technique attempts to reduce or stop the conflict by controlling the population of animals. However, the ethical implications of such control methods are questionable. Lethal control has been used for a long time, but it has huge drawbacks. Other measures that are less costly include moving problematic animals to other zones, preservation, and regulation of animal populations. Modern techniques require an understanding of the ecological environment of wildlife and trying to minimize or prevent conflict. An example is behavioral modification, among other measures, to reduce the interaction between wildlife and the human population. Some of the solutions used to minimize or prevent human-wildlife conflict include planning of land use, using electric fencing, community-based natural resource management (CBNRM), eco-tourism, compensation, among other solutions. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has partnered with different organizations and governments around the world to reduce human-wildlife conflict. The solutions offered by WWF are tailored to the community and the species of wildlife involved. For instance, communities in Mozambique have been encouraged to grow chili pepper plants because elephants do not like, and they avoid plants having capsaicin. This approach is one of the most effective methods that control elephants from destroying crops as well as protecting the elephants from humans.


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