© Ivan Mizin, WWF Russia

Strategies to help people and animals coexist

24 September 2021

This article originally appeared in The Circle: The Arctic Under Pressure. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

Around the world, human-wildlife conflict is seriously affecting conservation efforts and livelihoods—and sometimes leading to casualties on both sides. An upcoming WWF report will elevate the issue globally. And as FEMKE HILDERINK explains, it highlights the need to unlock resources and partnerships aimed at enabling long-term coexistence.

FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, the Arctic’s reliable sea-ice habitat naturally limited interactions between Indigenous Peoples and polar bears. But not anymore. In recent years, the loss of sea ice due to the climate crisis has intensified human activity in the region and forced polar bears to spend more time on shore, where they are in closer proximity with people.

As a result, the bears are becoming more accustomed to village and community food sources. The higher frequency of interactions between people and bears is also forcing community members to alter their habits and take safety precautions. In some places, it is leading to deadly consequences on both sides.

Similar conflicts are escalating around the world, affecting wildlife populations and societies on multiple levels. Animals are being killed in defence or retaliation, a situation that can lead to total or regional extinction and negatively affect the ecosystems where they live. People can also suffer from injuries and the loss of livestock, crops or other property, and sometimes lose their lives. For example, in Sri Lanka, 121 people and 405 wild elephants were killed in conflicts in 2019. In Tanzania, interactions between lions and people lead to the deaths of about 60 people and 150 lions every year.

In addition, wildlife can affect agriculture and livestock production, often resulting in food insecurity and negative economic impacts at various levels. Human-wildlife conflict can result in diverse societal responses that lead to disagreements among people or groups and have indirect impacts, such as fear and psychological problems.

Unfortunately, our current solutions are clearly no match for the scale of the problem. While it is not realistic to expect that we can completely prevent human-wildlife conflict, a well-planned, integrated approach could reduce conflicts and lead to a form of coexistence. Such an integrated approach requires simultaneous work on prevention, mitigation, response, research, and monitoring, all backed by strong policy support and the participation of local communities.

SCALING UP STRATEGIES AND SOLUTIONS

WWF’s upcoming report is a call to action to place human-wildlife conflict on the global governance, livelihood, development and biodiversity conservation agendas. It is intended to elevate the issue to the highest levels and help the global community address the issue at the scale required to achieve long-term impacts. It is also a call to go beyond focusing on the symptoms and adopt solutions that identify and address the underlying causes of conflict worldwide by involving affected communities as active and equal participants.

We know that achieving some form of coexistence is possible. As many of the case studies in the report demonstrate, successful human-wildlife conflict management can be achieved through the implementation of holistic and integrated approaches, backed by policies that create an enabling environment for coexistence.

Living among wildlife is an inherent part of life for many people in the Arctic, especially those who rely on local animal species for food and cultural traditions. These people understand firsthand the benefits of living with wildlife because their lifestyles depend on it. To improve the safety of both people and wildlife, WWF supports polar bear patrols, whose mission is to protect the residents of coastal villages around the Arctic that are within the polar bears’ ranges. Also, trials are underway to build bear-safe food storage facilities and better waste management systems. Research focusing on the drivers and impacts of human-wildlife conflict and possible monitoring systems is ongoing.

Although great initiatives are being implemented, more collective action on a larger scale is needed to enhance the safety of people and bears well into the future.

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FEMKE HILDERINK is a wildlife conservation advisor with WWF–Netherlands and co-lead of the WWF network-wide working group on human-wildlife conflict.