Human-wildlife conflict which is rampant in Bhutan and all parts of the natural world continue to be overlooked by policymakers.
By Tandin Wangchuk
A joint report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and WWF titled ‘A future for all – the need for human-wildlife coexistence’, reveals that globally, conflict-related killing affects more than 75% of the world’s wild cat species, as well as many other terrestrial and marine carnivore species such as polar bears and Mediterranean monk seals, and large herbivores such as elephants.
According to the report, which featured contributions from 155 experts from 40 organisations based in 27 countries, human-wildlife conflict is as much a development and humanitarian issue as it is a conservation concern, affecting the income of farmers, herders, artisanal fishers, and Indigenous peoples, particularly those living in poverty and without resilience.
Yet despite being so strongly linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), human-wildlife conflict continues to be overlooked by policymakers.
“In a crowded world, people and wildlife are increasingly competing for space and resources. The encounters between them are more regular – and not all interactions are positive. It is a global issue, but people in some parts of the world are affected more significantly by wildlife than others,” the report states.
Sharing landscapes with wildlife is even more difficult when human lives and livelihoods are at risk. At the same time, as history has shown us, HWC can lead to the local or complete extinction of species.
With the broader implications of HWC having a much wider reach than the communities and wildlife immediately impacted by it, it is important to note that HWC is as much a development and humanitarian issue as it is a conservation concern.
It states that in fact, HWC is an issue that impacts most of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but is not yet explicitly identified as such.
With the current global acceleration of climate change and further loss of habitat resulting from deforestation, etc., the detrimental impacts of HWC on both people and wildlife are increasing, and the current solutions do not match the magnitude of the problem. In order to achieve coexistence between people and wildlife, stakeholders must work together to address HWC more effectively while also emphasising that the benefits of living with wildlife outweigh the costs.
“We know that achieving coexistence is possible. There are examples from across the globe of successful HWC management achieved through the implementation of integrated and holistic approaches backed by policies that create an enabling environment for coexistence,” the report points.
Considering the needs of people and the needs of wildlife concurrently in HWC management strategies creates synergies for both conservation and development.
The report also provide an outlook on the future of coexistence between people and wildlife and presents Case studies not only illustrate impacts but also show how people all over the world have been able to build strong partnerships with nature in their own ways, and demonstrate how they have moved from conflict to coexistence.
HWC management and holistic coexistence strategies can benefit communities, society, governance, sustainable development, and businesses, all while securing the survival of threatened species and the ecosystems they depend on.
While these success stories offer hope, we are aware that these outcomes are not always easy to achieve. However, setbacks, and even outright failure, can help pave the way to eventual success.
“We are convinced that if we adapt, replicate, and scale up those successful efforts in a more concerted manner globally, while considering local contexts and needs, we may well be able to achieve some level of humanwildlife coexistence,” the report states.
The report further points that the time has come for stakeholders to step back and rethink how they can reduce and manage conflict between people and wildlife and foster coexistence for the benefit of both wildlife and people.
One recommendation is the organizers asked the international community to include human-wildlife coexistence as an explicit target of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) process aimed at achieving the 2050 vision of ‘living in harmony with nature’.
In addition, integrating human-wildlife coexistence into the implementation of the SDG framework for longlasting sustainable development and wildlife conservation was also felt.
Further it asked the national and regional governmental authorities to incorporate coexistence considerations into the design and implementation of all relevant policies and programmes and provide financial means for their implementation.
Addressing HWC as a global threat to sustainable development, food security, and conservation in the framework of relevant international conventions, and ensuring that the creation and implementation of national and subnational development plans explicitly enhance coexistence and incorporate cross-sectoral natural resource management and biodiversity conservation through informed and integrated spatial planning that takes into account the long-term needs of both human and wildlife populations.
“Governments need to develop transparent and inclusive local and regional institutions to manage land use and HWC based on evidence and through a participatory process with affected parties, increase all parties’ capacity for HWC management, and improve communication and partnerships between stakeholders,” it states.
It also recommends developing laws and regulations, including impact assessments and incentives, which buffer affected people and businesses against the impacts of HWC and enable the benefits of coexistence with wildlife to accrue and be shared fairly and locally.
However, it observed that most government’s capacity to do so may be negatively impacted by the loss of their traditional territories to other forms of land use driven by logging, mining, and other consumptive land use practices that lead to habitat loss.
“Reduction, fragmentation, and degradation of habitats mean wild animals are also losing the space and resources they need to survive. This increases competition between people and wildlife, which can affect the well-being of all,” it stated.
It was observed that communities in this situation experience negative impacts on agricultural production and livelihoods, a decreased quality of life, and even loss of life, all of which erode tolerance of conservation that can lead to the removal, killing, and even eradication of the species involved in conflict.
The report points that HWC can have repercussions that extend beyond the directly affected communities and wildlife. If not managed effectively, HWC has the potential to negatively affect not only the concerned people and animals but also conservation and sustainable development initiatives much more broadly.
Further, HWC can also weaken production systems and other businesses, as well as regional and national economies. HWC is escalating around the world, on land and under water; it is a global concern that affects society at multiple levels.
However, the current scale of solutions clearly does not match the scale of the problem.
Currently, HWC management actions are often disparate and not implemented holistically or at scale. Working towards coexistence of people and wildlife requires connecting and reconciling sustainable development and biodiversity conservation and managing trade-offs between the two.
Holistic and integrated responses that minimise and manage HWC – especially those developed at scale and emphasising the benefits of living with wildlife – can enable safe, stable, and prosperous coexistence between people and wildlife.
The SDGs and the CBD have provided international platforms to help achieve a sustainable future for all.
However, attempts to stop biodiversity loss, poverty, inequality, and climate change and to achieve peace and justice through such efforts have failed to connect these goals and activate synergies at a large scale, especially as they relate to HWC.
Mainstreaming HWC management and the aim of coexistence into global conventions and regional programmes is an urgent necessity it observed.