Research indicates that humans, not predators, at fault for conflicts

Scientists have developed new theories regarding the increase in conflict between humans and wild carnivores, and virtually all of them point directly at human behaviour as the root cause.

In an incredible and robust article published this week in the journal Scientific Reports, the group of scientists explored numerous datasets from around the world, involving a variety of predatory species and several hundreds of conflicts, leading to numerous hypotheses and theories.

Of course, the increased human population that is also spending more times in more remote regions of our environments was prominent in the study. In this observation, however, the authors noted that people are less prepared to face a higher probability of conflict.

“Three main predictions arise from this hypothesis,” the authors wrote. “[One] an increased number of people are engaging in outdoor leisure activities in areas inhabited by large carnivores; [two] many people are not prepared to safely enjoy outdoor activities or they behave inappropriately in the countryside; and [three] large carnivore attacks are influenced by the interaction between several human- and animal-related factors.”

Another observation made by the group – and one that is reflected in other recent studies on predatory species and conflict – is the damage of persecution (hunting, trapping, or other “controls” of populations).

“Natural selection maintains a mix of behavioural phenotypes in populations, the shy-bold behavioural continuum; bold individuals thrive on risk and novelty, whereas shy individuals shrink from the same situations,” they wrote. “Persecution, however, is expected to result in the disproportionate removal of bold individuals, as they are less cautious, and thus more likely to be killed.

“We hypothesise that intense and prolonged human-caused mortality imposes selection pressures on target populations (selective removal of certain phenotypes) and might lead to rapid evolutionary changes.”

And perhaps the most telling – and most important aspect of this study – was the discovery that approximately half (50%) of those involved in wildlife “attacks” were exercising risk-increasing behaviours at the time, such as:

  1. Parents leaving children unattended
  2. Walking an unleashed dog
  3. Searching for a wounded large carnivore during hunting
  4. Engaging in outdoor activities at twilight/night
  5. Approaching a female with young

“These are clearly risk-enhancing behaviours when sharing the landscape with large carnivores,” notes the article.

Media sensationalism and a lack of public education are two other factors observed as problematic.

The authors are using this study to strongly advocate for greater research into carnivore behaviour, how it is influenced by human activity, and solutions to prevent conflict in the future – something that we at The Fur-Bearers believe is an absolute necessity.

Penteriani, V. et al. Human behaviour can trigger large carnivore attacks in developed countries. Sci. Rep. 6, 20552; doi: 10.1038/srep20552 (2016).


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