Climate change

Human-Wildlife Conflicts

Global warming is on the rise and this can be seen not only by more extreme and frequent catastrophic weather events, but also by rising human-wildlife conflicts.

recent study carried out by scientists at the University of Washington’s Center for Ecosystem Sentinels showed once more that humanity is connected deeply with nature. The main focus of the study was climate change and its correlation with human-wildlife conflicts.  

What Are Human-Wildlife Conflicts?

Human-wildlife conflicts are encounters between humans and wildlife that lead to negative results, such as loss of property, livelihood or even life. More and more of these conflicts have come to light in the past few years. Elephants, polar bears and wolves, for example, have come into villages to look for food, surprising and sometimes even harming humans. The questions that are raised is where are wild animals allowed to live, not invading human space? Or are humans invading wild animals’ spaces? Can the space be shared in a way that reduces conflicts?

One way that humans need to adapt in the Alpine mountains, for example, is linked to livestock and its protection. With the growing wolf population it is fundamental to use protection measures. Since these were not needed for the last few hundred years, livestock owners need to re-learn how to live with the wolf present. However, human-wildlife conflicts are not only rising with mammal species living in terrestrial ecosystems. Other animals are also experiencing conflicts with humans, for example fish, birds, reptiles and even invertebrates. 

What Are the Causes?

Human-wildlife conflicts are mainly caused by changes. Changes in human and/or animal behaviour, which is caused by climate change. One very straight-forward example are the polar bears. Because of ever-warming climate, the ice in the Arctic is melting constantly. This year, the sea ice in the Antarctica also melted to a record low. This, of course, makes it impossible for the polar bear to hunt for food the way it usually did. So, as a logical consequence, the species tries to find food elsewhere, moving further inland and thereby for example foraging in villages or human settlements close by. This can lead to dangerous and critical encounters between humans and wildlife. This was seen by the fatal attack of a polar bear on a woman in Alaska this year. 

The warming climate can change not only wildlife habitats – like the sea ice for polar bears – but humans are also forced to move and change their behaviour on the grounds of climate warming. If humans do not try to reduce global warming, such conflicts with wildlife are said to increase. All living species on Earth need to adapt their lives to new situations and circumstances. 

Another factor is the growing human population and demand for space, which increases to rise. Humans and other animals are more often competing for habitats and food, but this is enforced even more because of climate warming. 

Understanding Connections

It is important to understand the bigger picture when it comes to human-wildlife conflicts and to see how we are connected to the environment and other animals on this planet. Only if we understand that can we see what the causes for conflicts are and how we can try to minimise them. There should be enough space for every animal and every human to get a chance and live on this planet.

One major motivation in studying the link between climate change and human-wildlife conflict is finding solutions. As we learn about specific incidents, we can identify patterns and trends—and come up with interventions to try to address or lessen these conflicts.
Briana Abrahms
UW assistant professor of biology and lead author of above-mentioned study

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