Human-carnivore relations : it’s not just about the wolf

A recent study by Lozano et al. (2019) reviewed the focus of human-carnivore studies. Due to commonly-occuring conflict between carnivores and humans, characterising where the research focus is can give insight into which areas require more resources.

The study found that way more research on human-carnivore relations has been conducted in the Global North than Global South. Additionally, there is a bias towards just a few families with large carnivores, such as grey wolves, brown bears and African cats. However, smaller carnivores can cause severe conflicts and provide ecosystem services just as well as large carnivores.

Furthermore, most research focused on human-carnivore conflicts, neglecting the ecosystem services carnivores are providing. While it is understandable that there is a focus on conflicts and their prevention, neglecting the benefits for humans from carnivore presence can lead to their negative image in the eyes of the public. Consequently, the conflicts can escalate further.

Why we need carnivores

Ecosystem services that carnivores provide include non-material contributions, such as eco-tourism, recreational hunting and sacred experiences. Besides, they also include regulating services, such as carcass removal, biological control and seed dispersal. For instance, golden jackals are very important for pest control and waste removal, as they feed on rodents that are crop pests and animal waste. Furthermore, carnivores can also provide material services such as fur.

Shutterstock - © All rights reserved
Shutterstock – © All rights reserved

An additional concern stemming from the findings of the study is that while the majority of studies suggests various management actions to reduce the level of conflict, few of the studies test them. One third of the reviewed articles suggested lethal control to reduce livestock depredation. However, there is no evidence that lethal control reduces livestock depredation. In contrast, non-lethal measures have been shown to both reduce depredation and foster tolerance, especially when more such measures are applied together.

Finally, the study emphasised that human tolerance for carnivores is a product of many factors, both direct and indirect. For example, land use changes, economic changes and other social factors can be the indirect drivers of a conflict. Therefore, an interdisciplinary research focus using social science methods is also crucial in order to fully understand and improve human-carnivore relations.

Lozano et. al. (2019). Human-carnivore relations: A systematic review. Biological Conservation 237: 480-492. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.07.002

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