Previously, I wrote about how conflict between people and jaguars is often more complicated than it may seem. While it may appear to be driven by predation on livestock, Marchini and Macdonald (2012) found its influence to be mostly indirect. Lately I have been coming across articles that claim human-wildlife conflict is largely driven by human-human conflict.
All of these sources acknowledge that wildlife can negatively impact human livelihoods. But they contend that non-human animals are not consciously trying to prevent us from achieving our goals: they are just trying to survive. As such, they are not truly in conflict with us (Redpath, Bhatia, & Young, 2014; Peterson, Birckhead, Leong, Peterson, & Peterson, 2010; Young et al., 2010).
But humans are certainly in conflict over how to manage wildlife. Conservationists and animal lovers want to protect wild animals, whereas others resent such initiatives (Redpath et al., 2014).
Even when conservationists and local stakeholders do not appear to be in opposition, hidden social conflicts may drive the persecution of wildlife (Madden & McQuinn, 2014). Consider the annual Labor Day Pigeon Shoot that used to be held in Hegins, Pennsylvania. Residents of this rural town claimed to kill pigeons because of the damage they caused. But this could not have been the case, because the birds were imported specifically to be shot. In reality, the pigeons were killed because the residents of Hegins associated them with urbanism and conspiratorial outsiders (Hoon Song, 2000).
Historical conflicts can also contribute to negative perceptions of wildlife. Consider the case of chimpanzees in Sierra Leone. During the transatlantic slave trade, corrupt leaders allowed outside merchants to kidnap youth and sell them into slavery. This gave rise to the belief in ngolo hinda, that chimpanzee attacks on children are really the work of disguised “big men.” Not surprisingly, this made residents of Sierra Leone highly skeptical of chimpanzee conservation in the 1990’s; especially since it was initiated by outsiders and mistrusted political leaders (Richards, 2000).
Indeed, Redpath at al. (2014) and Peterson et al. (2010) examined 100 or more publications on human-wildlife conflict. They both found that the majority of their sources did not pertain to conflict per se, but to damage caused by wildlife. When there was actual conflict (one or more parties trying to assert their wills over others), it was between humans about wildlife. As a result, both Redpath et al. (2014) and Peterson et al. (2010) concluded that the term “human-wildlife conflict” is problematic.
The above authors take issue with the phrase human-wildlife conflict because it portrays wild animals as conscious human antagonists. They claim this harms animals by making it easier to justify their persecution (Peterson et al., 2010; Redpath et al., 2014; Redpath et al., 2013; Linnell et al., 2010). In addition, labeling conservation conflicts as human-wildlife conflicts may hide the inter-group tensions that contribute to them. This encourages technical solutions that do not address such factors, which may limit their success (Peterson et al., 2010; Redpath et al., 2014).
To address these issues, Redpath et al. (2014) suggest openly acknowledging the human-human conflicts that often accompany conservation. Peterson et al. (2010) even recommend abandoning the term human-wildlife conflict: substituting it with the more positive “human-wildlife coexistence.”
For myself, I agree most strongly with Redpath et al. (2014). Studying mental health counseling taught me that interpersonal conflicts can only be resolved if they are acknowledged. Therefore when involved in human-wildlife conflicts that seem intractable, it might be wise for conservationists to consider how human-human tensions may be complicating the issue. To this end, actively listening to local stakeholders (while doing one’s best to suspend judgement) can provide a great deal of information.
But most importantly, it is imperative to more fully understand how conflicts between people can impact wildlife. Involved parties should be able to recognize when inter-group dynamics are undermining conservation initiatives. And above all, they need to know what to do in such situations.
Since I have just begun to explore this topic, I do not have many answers. But I suspect I will revisit it once I have acquired more information.
Knight, J. (Ed.). (2000). Natural enemies: People-wildlife conflicts in anthropological perspective. London, UK and New York, NY: Routledge.
Madden, F., & McQuinn, B. (2014). Conservation’s blind spot: The case for conflict transformation in wildlife conservation. Biological Conservation, 178, 97-106. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2014.07.015.
Peterson, M. N., Birckhead, J. L., Leong, K., Peterson, M. J., & Peterson, T. R. (2010). Rearticulating the myth of human-wildlife conflict. Conservation Letters, 3, 74-82. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1755-263X.2010.00099.x
Redpath, S.M., Young, J., Evely, A., Adams, W. M., Sutherland, W. J., Whitehouse, A., … Gutiérrez, R.J. (2013). Understanding and managing conservation conflicts. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 28(2), 100-109. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2012.08.021.
Redpath, S. M., Bhatia, S., & Young, J. (2014). Tilting at wildlife: Reconsidering human-wildlife conflict. Oryx, 49(2), 222-225. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0030605314000799.