As mentioned before, one of the most significant threats to jaguars is human-wildlife conflict. This conflict is often described as being driven by the cats’ tendency to prey on livestock. If this conceptualization is correct, then resolving it should be straightforward. If conservationists can prevent jaguars from harming domestic animals, then ranchers will stop killing them. Indeed, this strategy is being used throughout Latin America. However, I believe this framework oversimplifies the issue.
Humans are the most complex of all known animals. Our behavior is often determined by a myriad of factors, many of which are not immediately apparent. Therefore I have always had my doubts about the above understanding of human-jaguar conflict, because it made too much sense. As it turns out, my doubts may have been well founded.
A few years ago Marchini and Macdonald (2012) carried out a study to better understand why ranchers in Brazil kill jaguars. They used Ajzen’s (1985) Theory of Planned Behavior to examine how the following factors influenced participants’ intentions to kill jaguars: their perceptions of the damage caused by jaguars (the cats’ impacts on livestock and human safety), subjective norms (how people important to participants would judge their actions), and the perceived ease of killing jaguars. Marchini and Macdonald (2012) also incorporated ranchers’ descriptive norms (what they think other ranchers do) and social identity into their study.
Marchini and Macdonald (2012) conducted their research in the Amazon deforestation frontier and the northern Pantanal. They found that while jaguars’ perceived impacts on livestock and human safety did influence ranchers’ intentions to kill them, it did so indirectly.
In Amazonia, individuals who were more afraid of jaguars and lost more animals to them were more likely to have positive attitudes about killing them. It was these attitudes, when combined with participants’ descriptive norms and perceived ability to kill jaguars, which best predicted their intentions to do so (Marchini & Macdonald 2012).
The results differed slightly in the Pantanal. Jaguars’ perceived impacts on livestock influenced ranchers’ attitudes and subjective norms about killing them. The model that included participants’ attitudes and subjective norms, social identity (how strongly they identified with other ranchers), and descriptive norms was the one that best predicted their intentions to harm jaguars (Marchini & Macdonald 2012).
So while there was a link between loss of livestock and ranchers’ intentions to kill jaguars, in both locations it was weaker than commonly thought.
Marchini and Macdonald’s (2012) results are similar to ones obtained around the world. Many studies have found that damage caused by wild animals is only one driver of human-wildlife conflict. Factors as diverse as human values, power relations (Redpath et al. 2013), social identity (Dickman 2010; Marchini & Macdonald 2012; Naughton-Treves, Grossberg, & Treves 2003), economic situations (Dickman 2010; Marchini & Macdonald 2012; Cavalcanti, Marchini, Zimmermann, Gese, & Macdonald 2010), and gender ideals (Mahler 2009) have been found to contribute to killings of wildlife. Perhaps this is why eliminating the damage caused by wild animals does not always stop their persecution (Dickman, 2010).
If the link between predation on cattle and the killing of jaguars is indirect, should conservationists stop trying to safeguard livestock?
Certainly not. Jaguars’ perceived impact on livestock was important; its influence was just less significant than might be expected (Marchini & Macdonald 2012). It would also be dangerous to generalize Marchini and Macdonald’s (2012) findings to all situations of human-jaguar conflict. There may be instances in which damage to livestock is the main driver of jaguar persecution, and others in which it does not matter at all. Remember, human behavior can be complicated.
What Marchini and Macdonald’s (2012) conclusions do mean is that the human dimensions of human-wildlife conflict are just as important as the ecological ones. Thus there is a need to better understand the socio-cultural, economic, and political drivers of jaguar persecution. This will allow conservationists and local stakeholders to design the most effective solutions to human-jaguar conflict.
Ajzen, I. (1985). From intentions to actions: A theory of planned behavior. In J. Kuhl & J. Beckman (Eds.), Action-control: From cognition to behavior (pp. 11- 39). Heidelberg, Germany: Springer. [Available by request on Ajzen’s website]
Cavalcanti, S. M. C., Marchini, S., Zimmermann, A., Gese, E. M., & Macdonald, D. W. (2010). Jaguars, livestock, and people in Brazil: Realities and perceptions behind the conflict. In D.W. Macdonald & A. J. Loveridge (Eds.), Biology and conservation of wild felids (pp. 3-58). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Dickman, A. J. (2010). Complexities of conflict: The importance of considering social factors for effectively resolving human-wildlife conflict. The Zoological Society of London, 13(5), 458-466. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-1795.2010.00368.x.
Marchini, S. & Macdonald, D. W. (2012). Predicting ranchers’ intention to kill jaguars: Case studies in Amazonia and Pantanal. Biological Conservation, 147; 213-221. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2012.01.002.