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Human Wildlife Conflicts

What is human wildlife conflict?

Human-wildlife conflict has the greatest impact within agricultural regions where human population growth begins to encroach on the territory of wildlife.

Human population growth, agricultural intensification and wealth creation has limited the living space and resources for both humans and animals, creating conflict. Animal diet preferences and migration patterns play a big role in food competition. People farm near water and tend to harvest in some areas at the same time as elephants migrate to large bodies of water.

Human wildlife conflict has led to the extinction of several species and to substantial population decline and reduced distributions of many others. Many of the affected species range beyond the boundaries of protected areas, the edges of which can become population sinks. Retaliatory killing has, for example, halved local populations of cheetah, Eurasian lynx and tigers in several regions and altered the ranging patterns and behaviour of elephants and felids.

At present, critical loss of wildlife in terms of megafauna can be broadly broken into two categories; the first is through poaching – more specifically, on a commercial scale for rhino horn, elephant ivory, pangolin scales and tiger bones to the Far East, namely China, Korea and Vietnam. Secondly, through poaching for bush meat (which can also be commercial) and being caught in snares, but many elephants, tigers and lions are killed by local villagers due to the trampling of their crops or killing of domestic livestock. In addition, a Maasai tradition or rite of passage is to kill a lion to demonstrate one’s prowess and nerves of steel, required to become a Moran or Maasai warrior.

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So – how are we mitigating the effects of human wildlife conflict due to habitat loss resulting from human encroachment?

  1. Wildlife corridors – these allow wildlife to move freely between regions. In recent years, researchers have found an increasing loss of connectivity between core wildlife habitat areas. As a result there is a danger of human-elephant conflict as human settlements move into elephant range – which is around 3000 km 2.
  2. Erecting chilli pepper plant fences. Chilli peppers surround the plants are used to deter elephants, because elephants do not like their smell or taste. An added advantage is that people can also sell chili peppers for additional income. Another version of the chilli pepper fence is to hang up a cloth infused with chili paste around the perimeter of the crops.
  3. Burning chilli pepper bricks- The burning of chili pepper bricks, with the help of the wind, sends the strong smell of chilli peppers in the direction of elephants and discourages them from coming closer, even from a long distance. These bricks are formed with elephant dung, chili pepper seeds and grease, so that they burn longer. They have proven to be very effective.
  4. Bee hive fences- This approach is extremely successful and the bee hives are erected on the perimeter of the crops. Bees are used to deter the elephants from coming close as elephants don’t like to get stung as they have such thin skin. In addition, it provides a further source of income for the farmers and a source of food and nutrition for them. The key is to erect the correct bee hives at the correct distances for effective deterrence and impact and the farmers need to be taught how to do this. There is a cost factor attached to this as well. 
  5. Electric predator proof fence kraals– Constructed in a sturdy fashion and high enough to fend off animals looking to prey on crops and livestock.
  6. Livestock guard dogs- These dogs, when well trained, are able to fend off livestock in several cases from cheetah and lion attacks.
  7. Early maturing seeds- Seeds planted and harvested fast enough to reap a benefit before the migration of elephants passing through is also an effective way to minimize conflict. 
  8. Alternative livelihoods in the tourism sector -- training young adults to work in the wildlife tourism industry, so that they rely more on the preservation of these animals to earn an income, creating more positive attitudes among humans toward wildlife.

 What is the solution to human wildlife conflict?

The solutions are often specific to the species or area concerned and are often creative and simple. An important aspect of the work is that it benefits both the animals and local human communities, and actively involves these communities. This is about finding solutions that lead to mutually beneficial co-existence.

The work has also often led to people being more enthusiastic and supportive of conservation, and has demonstrated that people can live alongside wildlife while developing sustainable livelihoods.

Land-use planning Ensuring that both humans and animals have the space they need. Protecting key areas for wildlife, creating buffer zones and investing in alternative land uses are some of the solutions.

WWF and the Aga Khan Foundation's Coastal Rural Support Programme are working to identify practical solutions to combat this human/animal conflict. One method is to make a mixture of oil, car grease, fresh elephant dung and crushed chilli which is lathered on ropes strung around fields of crops. When elephants run into these ropes the substance burns their skin and the pungent odor repels them. 

Community-based natural resource management The local community is key since they are the ones who may wake up in the morning with a tiger or elephant at their hut. But they are also the people who can benefit the most. If people are empowered to manage their relationship with wild animals, these "unwanted" neighbours can become allies in bringing income and promoting a better quality of life for all.

Compensation / insurance Compensation or insurance for animal-induced damage is another widely accepted solution. There are different ways this can be done. In Namibia, for example, community-based insurance systems exist for damage done to livestock. The Nepalese government pays compensation in areas around national parks.  

Payment for Environmental Services Payment for Environmental Services is a concept that has recently gained popularity in the international development and conservation community. The most popular of these is financial reward for the sequestering of carbon, but it is also seen as a potential solution for human-wildlife conflict.  

Field based solutions There are a number of practical field-based solutions that can limit the damage done both to humans and their property, and to wildlife, by preventing wildlife from entering fields or villages. However, such solutions can only be applied on a case-by-case basis. What people see as solution in one place, they may resist in another. And what works in one place, may have the opposite effect somewhere else.

References: WWF


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