ISAZ 2018

Symposium 3

Human-wildlife conflict: Rebuilding conscious co-existence 

Date: Tuesday 3rd July
Time: 2 pm - 3:45 pm
Room: Platypus Room (Seminar Rooms 1.2/1.4)

Chairs: Bradley Smith and Neil Jordan

Speakers: Neil Jordan, Bradley Smith, Catherine Herbert, Alex Mayers, Casey O’Brien.

Symposium Abstract

This symposium seeks to explore the possibility of "rebuilding conscious coexistence" in society, essentially exploring options to reconnect ourselves to natures world wide web (but focusing on the conflict context). We are increasingly living in a sanitized world where we move from one sterile air-conditioned box to another, eating foods that we have had a minimal input in hunting/gathering and preparing, and we have completely lost our sense of  fitting into a food web. We are incredibly intolerant of animals sharing our space (except a few that we keep for fun, strictly on our terms). Can we remember or learn how to coexist? Tool making, tool-use and intelligence were important in our evolutionary development and transition to super predators, but it could be argued that humans have completely unharnessed their tool-developing potential that allow them to compete and coexist with wildlife again rather than exclude and eradicate them from large parts of the globe. How are humans, the “tool users”, so useless at developing conflict tools? Why is the great innovating species so unwilling to innovate in this context?

Title: Intolerance, innovation and inequity: unpacking key barriers to human-wildlife coexistence.

Presenter: Neil Jordan

Summary: A utopian state of harmonious human-wildlife coexistence is often romanticised and, while undoubtedly embellished, it is also likely that we have never been so detached and separate from nature as we are today. What’s preventing us from returning to a place where we can coexist with nature rather more harmoniously than at present? Of the many potential barriers, I’ll briefly explore three key and alliterative obstacles: intolerance, innovation and inequity. In doing so, I hope to provide and provoke thoughts and suggestions of potential ways to improve human-wildlife coexistence.

Title: Kangaroos: A Controversial Aussie Icon

Presenter: Catherine Herbert

Summary: How can a species simultaneously be considered an icon, a pest, a valued tourism resource, a threatened species, a sustainable resource and a threat to people? This is the conundrum that wildlife managers and scientists working with kangaroos face in their day-to-day working lives. People’s attitudes towards kangaroos vary according to their personal experiences, and public perceptions of kangaroos are frequently divided along a rural-urban gradient. In rural areas, kangaroos are often perceived as pests, with lethal control being the management option of choice to reduce human-wildlife conflict. In peri-urban areas, kangaroos are usually perceived as a valuable part of the local aesthetic, with a desire to manage human-wildlife conflict using non-lethal control techniques. Both of these attitudes and approaches can have negative consequences for kangaroos. So, what is the way forward? How do we progress beyond the current state of controversy surrounding the status of kangaroos and the appropriate way(s) to manage them? I will present case studies to highlight the need for an informed debate about kangaroo management. Firstly, there is a need to understand the ways in which kangaroos and people interact and impact on one another – including whether the impacts are real or perceived. Secondly, we need to have sufficient baseline population data to be able to predict the likely outcomes of kangaroo management on human-kangaroo interactions and on animal welfare. This is just the start and needs to be done while taking into account, and understanding, local attitudes to kangaroos, so that we can work with communities to promote a policy of “living with kangaroos” into the future.

Title: Re-visioning the donkey.

Presenter: Alex Mayers

Summary: Whether working to underpin urban livelihoods in Mexico, being used to create mighty mules for the armed forces in India, taking pregnant women to clinics in Afghanistan or ploughing the fields of Zambia, donkeys can be simultaneously high in value and largely invisible. Donkeys can come into conflict with people when they have been abandoned, released from work for the dry season or even just left to free-graze at the end of a working day. Despite their importance to communities, growing evidence of the positive contributions of introduced megafauna, links to cultural heritage and a general lack of data on which to base management decisions, donkeys are often labelled as a ‘pest’ species. Investigations into populations, habitats, welfare, perceived issues and various management concepts are urgently needed, and stakeholders need to come together to understand whether and how to ethically manage free-ranging members of a species to which humanity owes a significant debt.

Title: Wombat wars: the complexities of human-wombat conflict management

Presenter: Casey O’Brien

Summary: Wombats are a much loved iconic Australian species, but they are also considered an agricultural pest throughout much of their range. The damages caused by their burrowing and grazing behaviour often results in substantial financial damage, decreased production, and a loss of time in reparations. Conflicts are primarily managed using lethal controls, under a permit system. Many landholders are frustrated with the permit system due to its failure to provide long-term conflict resolution, often leading to indiscriminate culling. The use of lethal controls also raises ethical and conservation concerns for wombats, and there is increasing pressure from animal rights, conservation groups, and the general public to implement non-lethal controls. Consequently, the management of wombats has become a highly contentious issue. There is an increasing need to develop integrative management strategies that incorporate the ecological and human aspects of conflicts, to balance the needs of wombats and agriculturalists. Like many species, the scientific data required to make informed and effective conflict management decisions is lacking. This study aimed to address these knowledge gaps by assessing landholder perceptions of southern hairy-nosed wombats (Lasiorhinus latifrons) and their management. Surveys revealed support for the conservation of L. latifrons, and the development of non-lethal damage mitigation strategies. Based on these findings, the effectiveness of translocation and deterrent use were trialled as non-lethal conflict mitigation measures but were unfortunately ineffective in providing long-term relief from conflicts. These results highlight the need for the development of improved management strategies that reduce damages and enhance co-existence between L. latifrons and landholders.

Title: Incorporating Human dimensions in wildlife conservation: the importance of measuring attitudes

Presenter: Bradley Smith

Summary: For wildlife conservation policies to be successful, they need to incorporate the opinions of all relevant stakeholders. This is particularly the case for the public, whose attitudes are often diverse and conflicting. Opinions are most often gathered using surveys that attempt to measure attitudes towards various aspects of wildlife. Measuring attitudes is important because they are intrinsically linked to behaviours, and likely to lead to behaviour change. Several studies measuring wildlife attitudes have been conducted, and a variety of demographic factors have been determined as having significant influence over attitudes. However, these studies, and subsequent attitude scales, suffer from methodological issues, and tend to be culturally and/or species specific. To ensure that conservation programs are successful, an understanding of regional attitudes collected via appropriately developed tools is required. Incorporating such attitudes will likely increase adherence of policies, and help place the environment, ecosystems and conservation at the forefront of policy and land management practices.