People and Wildlife: Conflict or Coexistence?

By Nelson, Fred | Endangered Species Update, January-March 2006 | Go to article overview

People and Wildlife: Conflict or Coexistence?


Nelson, Fred, Endangered Species Update


People and Wildlife: Conflict or Coexistence? Edited by Rosie Woodroffe, Simon Thirgood, and Alan Rabinowitz. Cambridge University Press 2005

The essential challenge of modern natural resource conservation is how to find space on the planet for the 12-15 million species that live here in the face of increasing levels of resource consumption by a single species: humans. Although this competition for habitat and resources affects nearly all species, it is particularly pronounced for large animals, such as primary predators, that compete most directly with people and thus threaten human livelihoods. For centuries, the result of this conflict has been the displacement of wildlife and gradual extirpation of species populations. Lions, for example, ranged from southern Europe to India to the Cape of Good Hope two thousand years ago, but today survive mainly in the savannahs of east and southern Africa. The Caspian and Bali sub-species of tiger went extinct during the twentieth century, and in the continental United States wolves and grizzly bears were persecuted to nearly the same status.

Such a track record of interactions between people and wildlife can suggest that co-existence is impossible, ecologically and socially, and that the future will continue to see the gradual disappearance of more and more species. Famed photographer Peter Beard, in his classic depiction of East Africa's modern environmental apocalypse, The End of the Game, talks of "the shape of things to come: an elephant reaching for the last branch on a tree, a vestigial giraffe plodding out of the picture, its legs lost in mirage." More recently, David Quammen, in his renowned 2003 book on people and wild predators, Monster of God, concluded, "when I look into [the] future, I don't see any lions, tigers, or bears."

Is the future of wildlife conservation really this bleak? Is co-existence between people and wildlife a chimera? Is the overwhelming reality truly a zero-sum conflict battle which wildlife must inevitably lose? What conditions, strategies, and management systems best enable co-existence, and thus, conservation? This new volume, People and Wildlife, attempts to synthesize a wealth of global experiences and information to provide answers to these critical questions. Containing 24 chapters, nearly 500 pages, and a total of 65 contributing authors from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines, this book is nothing if not a comprehensive treatment of the subject.

People and Wildlife combines overarching thematic discussions of key conflict areas- such as attacks on people, crop raiding, and livestock predation, with a rich set of geographically focused case studies from five continents. Two introductory chapters by the three co-authors provide a basic conceptual foundation by illustrating the two fundamental aspects of human-wildlife conflict. First, that people often cause wildlife extirpation or even extinction, such as by killing livestock predators; and second, that wildlife imposes substantial damage to people, particularly poor people in rural areas of the tropics, as a result of these same conflicts. This balanced introductory overview reflects the editors' pragmatic and honest treatment of the subject, and drives home the critical point that human-wildlife conflict must be considered from both ecological and socioeconomic viewpoints if it is to be understood and managed effectively.

Chapters 3 through 10 provide general overviews on different elements of human-wildlife conflict, including direct attacks by animals on people, crop destruction, lethal control of predators, and zoning as a mitigation strategy. Included here are three chapters that review some of the critical economic tools for wildlife management, including compensation schemes, ecotourism as a source of conservation incentives, and wildlife utilization. The latter subject is addressed by Nigel Leader-Williams and Jon Hutton, who provide a valuable overview, replete with local examples, of the potential and challenges of sustainable use management strategies for mitigating conflicts between people and wildlife. …

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