Conflict with humans one of greatest threats to key species, report warns

·3-min read

Conflict between people and wild animals is one of the main threats to the survival of some of the world’s most iconic species, a report has warned.

Human-wildlife conflict is a development and humanitarian issue as well as a conservation concern, with people at risk of losing their lives, livestock and incomes due to wild species such as lions or elephants, the study said.

The report from the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) and nature charity WWF is calling for efforts to help humans and wildlife coexist to be included in plans to implement UN sustainable development goals.

Polar bear mother and cub scavenging, Cape Tobin, Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland (Charlotte Margaret Moshoj/WWF-DK/PA)
Climate change and habitat loss are increasing interactions between people and wild animals such as polar bears (Charlotte Margaret Moshoj/WWF-DK/PA)

It also calls for measures to support human-wildlife coexistence to be at the heart of the new international framework to help nature, being decided by world leaders at a global meeting in October in Kunming, China.

The study, which involved 155 experts from 40 organisations in 27 countries, warns that humans and wildlife live together on more than half the Earth’s surface.

A rising demand for space, made worse by climate change and loss of natural habitats, means interaction between people and wild animals are on the increase, the report said.

In some cases, people kill animals in self-defence or as pre-emptive or retaliatory killings, with conflict-related killing affecting more than 75% of the world’s wild cats as well as species such as polar bears and elephants.

The report highlights how 121 people were killed by elephants in Sri Lanka in 2019, while 405 wild elephants also died as a result of human-elephant conflict, as increasing deforestation means the animals more frequently encounter people when moving from one area of forest to another.

Enclosure built using recycled plastic poles to protect livestock (Mara Predator Conservation Programme/PA)
An enclosure built using recycled plastic poles to protect livestock (Mara Predator Conservation Programme/PA)

In Tanzania, an average of 60 people are killed and 150 lions die each year as a result of human-lion conflict, which often happens at night when livestock are in traditional enclosures or free-ranging.

As well as the risk of death, communities may find incomes hit by loss of livestock, competition with wild animals over natural resources and damage to their land and crops – sometimes occurring on top of other devastating problems such as war or drought.

But the report also highlights how effective management can reduce human-wildlife conflict.

WWF said it was working on solutions to help people and wildlife live side-by-side, such as a project in the Mara in Kenya, where 46 plastic pole predator-proof enclosures have been built to protect 4,600 cattle from night-time predation.

Paul De Ornellas, chief wildlife adviser at WWF, said: “People around the world benefit from wildlife populations flourishing as key parts of healthy ecosystems that provide vital services on which we rely, such as food, and support livelihoods.

“But too often those living closest to wildlife, who are often among the most marginalised and vulnerable communities on our planet, bear all the risks and see few of the benefits.

“As climate change and habitat loss drive people and wildlife ever closer together, world leaders attending the Kunming biodiversity conference in October must put the effective management of human-wildlife coexistence at the centre of plans to halt the destruction of nature.”

Susan Gardner, director of Unep’s ecosystems division, said: “This report is a clarion call to elevate the problem of human-wildlife conflict and give it the attention it deserves in national and international processes.

“It is a call for the adoption of approaches that identify and address the deeper, underlying causes of conflict while developing systemic solutions with affected communities as active and equal participants in the process.

“As demonstrated in many of the case studies in this report, coexistence is both possible and attainable.”

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