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14.4: Confronting Human-Wildlife Conflict

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    As a growing human population continues to encroach on the last remaining wildernesses, wildlife populations are facing increased competition for space and food. Inevitably, as animals are being displaced from degraded ecosystems, they will increasingly meet humans. Some of these interactions will be negative ranging from direct conflict (e.g. injury and even death to one or both participants) and indirect conflict (e.g. transmission of diseases) to opportunity costs (e.g. loss of income due to crop damage and livestock predation). Although human-wildlife conflict is not unique to Africa, Africans are generally very vulnerable due to high levels of poverty and dependence on land, which limits options for conflict mitigation. Managing human-wildlife conflict is thus an important issue to consider in the management of potentially dangerous species, especially near protected area borders.

    Dealing with predators

    When wildlife impedes human activities, the traditional solution is to either kill the animal or to exclude it from the area with a barrier such as a fence. Killing problem animals can take the form of pro-active lethal control to avoid losses, or retaliatory killings in response to losses. While there is a sense of instant gratification after killing a problem animal, it provides only a temporary solution at best, and may even give rise to a new set of challenges. For example, work on black-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas, LC) showed that killing territorial individuals may cause a breakdown in their local social structure, in turn allowing multiple roaming sub-adult animals to take advantage of the vacant territory (Minnie et al., 2016). Killing apex predators could also give rise mesopredator release, where medium-sized carnivores and omnivores (e.g. jackals and baboons) flourish in the absence of their natural enemies (Brashares et al., 2010). Indiscriminate poisoning and trapping also kills beneficial non-target animals that opportunistically scavenge, such as owls, vultures, and harmless ant-eating mammals (Brown, 2006; Ogada et al., 2015). Thus, while killing problem animals may seem an intuitive solution, it is seldom the best strategy.

    Pastoralist communities are particularly vulnerable to predators. Because they are nomadic, pastoralists do not always have access to permanent or sturdy structures to protect their livestock and themselves. Consequently, conservation biologists are spending considerable energy on finding predatory-friendly approaches that offer lasting solutions for pastoralist communities. Among the most successful are schemes that provide compensation payments to pastoralists who forego retaliatory killings following livestock losses (Dickman et al. 2011). In Kenya, for example, compensation schemes reduced retaliatory killings of lions by 73–91% (Maclennan et al., 2009; Hazzah et al., 2014). Retaliatory killings can be reduced even more when compensation schemes are combined with other strategies; for example, one study that encouraged the use of mobile enclosures for livestock, communal herding, and “lion guardians” (the latter drawing on local knowledge and traditional values to mitigate conflict) saw a drop of 99% in retaliatory killings (Hazzah et al., 2014).

    Non-lethal control of problem animals involved in human-wildlife conflict may provide more benefits than lethal control.

    Livestock on commercial and smallholder farms are also vulnerable to predation when foraging away from protective structures. Non-lethal options to reduce livestock losses under these circumstances include predator-proof fences using native thorny plants, corralling pregnant females and calves during their vulnerable periods (Schiess-Meier et al., 2007), and setting up visual, chemical, or acoustic repellents in predation hotspots. Eliminating poor livestock husbandry (Woodroffe and Frank, 2005; Gusset et al., 2009; Newsome et al., 2015) and tardy disposal of deceased animals (Humphries et al., 2015) can also avoid situations where predators are attracted to domestic animals in the first place. But perhaps one of the most successful programs has been the use of livestock guarding animals, which could be dogs (Figure 14.7), donkeys, and other domesticated animals trained to protect livestock. A study from South Africa found that livestock depredation was eliminated on 91% of farms after the placement of guardian dogs, saving each of the 94 participant farms US $3,189 per year (Rust et al., 2013); Namibian farmers reported equally encouraging results with guardian animals (Marker et al., 2005). While there is an upfront cost involved in obtaining a guardian animal, recent work found that their deployment is generally more efficient and cost-effective than the cost of lethal options (McManus et al., 2015).

    Figure 14.7 Placing large guard dogs with livestock is a highly effective, non-lethal strategy to reduce predator attacks. The mere presence of the dog is often enough to keep predators away. Several conservation organizations are now providing trained guard dogs to reduce instances of human-wildlife conflicts involving predators. Photograph by Cheetah Conservation Fund,, CC BY-SA 3.0.

    The collaborations between farmers and conservation biologists to reduce livestock predation have benefited biodiversity conservation as well. Populations of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus, EN) and lions are rebounding on some unprotected lands (Woodruffe, 2011; Blackburn et al., 2016), while farmers using guardian animals are also more tolerant of some predators on their properties (Rust et al., 2013). Not only do these farmers enjoy seeing native wildlife on their properties; some have even completely switched focus away from livestock to more profitable ecotourism (Sims-Castley et al., 2005) and wildlife ranching endeavours (Lindsey et al., 2013).

    Dealing with crop raiders

    Non-lethal management of crop-raiding animals is also a high priority. The traditional non-lethal method of dealing with potentially dangerous crop-raiding species (e.g. elephants) involves maintaining electric fences (Kioko et al., 2008), but this method is expensive and requires electricity. To overcome these challenges, conservationists and communities have developed several innovative strategies that may even supplement incomes. One such method is to establish buffer fences made of honey-producing beehives (Scheijen et al., 2019) or chilli plants (Parker and Osborn, 2006; Chang’a et al., 2016); tea plants have also been used successfully to keep crop-raiding gorillas (Gorilla spp.) at bay (Seiler and Robbins, 2016). Using a different approach, conservation biologists in Tanzania developed a harmless, low-cost alarm kit to deter elephants (Bale, 2016). This four-step system involves first shining bright flashing lights at an approaching elephant, followed by loud air horns, then launching a grenade filled with chilli powder, sand, and a loud firecracker, and, as a last resort, launching exploding fireworks toward the approaching elephant.

    Concluding thoughts on human-wildlife conflict

    One of the most effective mechanisms for dealing with human-wildlife conflict is to develop awareness and opportunities for at-risk people to benefit from potentially harmful animals.

    Whether dealing with dangerous animals or crop raiders, one of the most effective mechanisms for dealing with human-wildlife conflict is to develop awareness and opportunities for at-risk people to benefit from potentially harmful animals (Blackburn et al., 2016). Studies in northern Ethiopia found that most people—even those who have been victims of human-wildlife conflict—have positive attitudes towards wildlife and believe that they can co-exist (Eshete et al., 2015). The reason for such positive attitudes is that a substantial portion of the affected people are aware of benefits from ecosystem services, including ecotourism opportunities. Such positive attitudes toward wildlife play a crucial role in the protection of a range of endemic species in this Global Biodiversity Hotspot, including the Walia ibex (Capra walie, EN) and Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis, EN).

    As discussed earlier, both ICDPs and CBNRM programs offer opportunities for local people to gain direct benefits from local wildlife, even potentially dangerous species. There are also research opportunities to further human-wildlife conflict mitigation beyond direct benefits to local people. For example, much progress has been made in understanding how lion (Tuqa et al., 2014) and elephant (Granados et al., 2012; Chiyo et al., 2014) behaviors relate to human activities; a logical next step would be to use this information to reduce conflict (e.g. Packer et al., 2005). An increasing number of resources are available to aid these and other efforts. The IUCN Human-Wildlife Conflict Task Force has taken the lead to collate much of this information; their library ( is sorted by species and topic. They also provide free training manuals (e.g. Parker et al., 2007) and host regular workshops.

    This page titled 14.4: Confronting Human-Wildlife Conflict is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by John W. Wilson & Richard B. Primack (Open Book Publishers) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.