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The Future of Human-Carnivore Conflict and Coexistence in Europe

Dr George Holmes (SEE), Dr Claire Quinn (SEE)

Contact email: g.holmes@leeds.ac.uk

One key challenge in conservation biology is understanding the relations between populations of wild animals and nearby human populations, particularly where those relations have the potential to be problematic, such as the case with carnivores (Peterson et al, 2010). Carnivores may be resented by local human populations for their impacts on livestock and livelihoods, either directly through their predation or indirectly because carnivore protection legislation may be seen as a symbol of perceived political indifference to rural human populations (Holmes, 2007, von Essen et al 2014). In turn, human activities, particularly relating to illegal or legal killing of carnivores, often in response to resentment, may pose a significant conservation challenge to carnivores themselves, as well as for the conservation of ecosystems in which carnivores play a keystone role (Dickman 2010). Both carnivores and humans can adopt their behaviour to better live alongside one another. Compensation schemes can alleviate the impacts of predation, and livestocking strategies and other adaptions can reduce the potential of predation problems. Carnivores themselves have been shown to modify their predation and other habits in response to humans.

Yet two key research challenges in this area remain. Firstly, much research to date has occurred in areas where populations are currently living with carnivores, and little has looked at places where carnivore ranges are expanding into new areas or are projected to expand into new areas, either naturally as their populations rebound from historical persecution or directly as a result of reintroduction programmes. This is the case for many places in Europe, the only continent where large predator numbers are increasing. Understanding such situations is vital for understanding how the future of predators, wider ecosystems and human populations may play out in future. Secondly, research has generally focused on conflictual situations, with a view for conservation intervention that remediate this conflict, rather than exploring situations where humans coexist with carnivores, with a view for conservation interventions that strengthen and expand this relationship. There needs to be a methodological and conceptual shift away from understanding the conservation biology challenge of human-predator relations through the lens of conflict towards one that also acknowledges coexistence. This research project would explore the evolution of relations of conflicts and coexistence between humans and carnivores, and their possible futures, in a Europe where carnivore populations are expanding. It would aim to explain how different situations of conflict and coexistence emerge, and how conflict can be minimised and coexistence maximised.

The project might take a comparative approach, looking at places where there is conflict and coexistence, or where carnivores have long been present, where they are expanding and where they are currently absent but may arrive. A major methodological challenge is much in human-carnivore interaction is challenging to uncover, as many aspects are hidden, particularly illegal activities such as illicit killing of carnivores. The research might draw from multiple methods in conservation biology, particularly recent developments in conservation social science.

Objectives

The aim of this research is to explore potential future interactions between humans and carnivores in Europe, by understanding present-day interactions. It would look to uncover what conditions determine the relationship is one of conflict or coexistence, and how these relationships may shift over time. It might explore, for example, whether natural expansion of carnivore populations results in different relations to examples where the arrival of carnivores has been actively facilitated by conservation policies. It might explore the relative merits of different measures to improve human-carnivore relations, such as a comparison of whether compensation payments for losses to predation work better for improving relations than subsidy payments for living alongside predators. It could consider how human-predator interactions vary between species, and the complexities of living alongside multiple species of predator. It would involve extended fieldwork in ideally two or more sites of current or future human-carnivore interactions, observing human behaviour and attitudes in detail, and integrating these with understandings of predator behaviour.

Potential for high impact outcome

The expansion of carnivore populations in Europe make this a pressing issue to understand for both scientists and policy makers, and there is great potential for interdisciplinary approaches to understanding human-predator relations. As such, it is expected that several key academic papers will be produced by the project, as well as other outputs that will contribute to carnivore policy in Europe, such as policy briefs. Predator management and regulation is often governed at European level, so it is expected that the project would develop an impact plan to target regional, national and European policy.

Training

The student will join an expanding cohort of conservation researchers in Leeds, spread across the School of Earth and Environment and Faculty of Biological Sciences, as well as other parts of the university. The student will be able to take key modules in conservation biology and related topics, as well as relevant modules in research methodology and research design, and the university’s broader training in research, science communication and other topics. Students will be supported in networking with other scholars working on human-carnivore relations.

Student profile

The student should have a strong interest in conservation biology. They should be prepared to work on the human dimensions of conservation, particularly the integration of techniques and approaches from the social sciences into conservation biology. They should be prepared to undertake extended fieldwork, ideally in two or more sites.

References

Dickman, A. J. "Complexities of conflict: the importance of considering social factors for effectively resolving human–wildlife conflict." Animal conservation 13.5 (2010): 458-466.

Holmes, George. "Protection, politics and protest: understanding resistance to conservation." Conservation and Society 5.2 (2007): 184.

Peterson, M. Nils, et al. "Rearticulating the myth of human–wildlife conflict." Conservation Letters 3.2 (2010): 74-82.

Von Essen, Erica, et al. "Deconstructing the poaching phenomenon a review of typologies for understanding illegal hunting." British Journal of Criminology 54.4 (2014): 632-651.

Related undergraduate subjects:

  • Anthropology
  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Geography
  • History
  • Politics
  • Zoology