Human-wildlife conflict is a central issue in conservation science. Whether it’s reintroducing wolves to key ecosystems in the Southwestern United States – which impacts livestock and ranchers – or the ongoing challenge of elephants living alongside communities in the savannah Africa, the effects of this conflict on people’s livelihoods can be significant. In African landscapes where growing populations of humans and elephants compete for limited resources, for example, conflicts between humans and elephants cause crop losses and can even result in injury and death, as well as reprisals following the killing of wild animals.
Despite everything we know about the challenges of human-wildlife conflict, it is however complicated to measure its impact on human livelihoods. An international team of researchers, including a professor from Northern Arizona University Duan Biggs, spent three years studying the dynamics between wildlife, people and the environment in the Kavango Zambezi Transboundary Conservation Area, the world’s largest land-based transboundary conservation area, spanning five African countries.
The study, led by Jonathan Salerno of Colorado State University and funded by the National Science Foundation, involved a large team of collaborators, including researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder, University of Louisville , University of California at Berkeley, University of North Carolina Wilmington, University of Botswana, University of Namibia, Stellenbosch University and Griffith University as well as The Nature Conservancy South Africa and the Zambia Department of National Parks and Wildlife.
As described in their recently published article in Current biology, “The impacts on wildlife and climate change constitute aggravating threats to human food security”, the team used interdisciplinary approaches in a large study area to better understand how climate change interacts with human conflict. elephant to affect household food insecurity.
The objectives of the project were to identify the socio-ecological conditions and patterns that affect household and community vulnerability and to determine leverage points that can help mitigate how land use decisions and the Land cover change affects vulnerability in the Kavango Zambezi Transboundary Conservation Area. in southern Africa. Investigators combined household surveys and participatory mapping to characterize how vulnerability indicators shape smallholder land use decisions. They integrated data on the environment, market factors, government policy and subsidies, culture and ethnicity, and the presence and intervention of nongovernmental organizations with remote sensing imagery to compare trajectories of land use and land cover change with underlying socio-ecological factors. By advancing the understanding of vulnerability, this research identifies how vulnerability influences and is affected by socioeconomic and biophysical factors at multiple scales.
“The whole project is focused on understanding human vulnerability and adaptive capacity in the context of environmental change,” said Salerno. “Having a systems level view of this problem is important because we are studying human vulnerability, which can be defined and affected by many different things. ”
Another important finding of the study was that people within these affected communities have the adaptive capacity to gather food resources and cushion the impacts of elephant conflict and short rainy seasons. Although individual communities can be resilient, large institutions such as governments and aid organizations currently do not sufficiently support effective strategies to mitigate or reduce risks to households. The team also advocates that in addition to habitat protection, appropriate resources and funding should be devoted to human-wildlife conflict mitigation programs to support the conservation of African savannah elephants. .
Biggs was born and raised in Southern Africa and has worked extensively on community engagement for conservation and human-wildlife conflict. He brought his experience of the region and his socio-ecological expertise to the study.
“Our results highlighting the dependence of humans and elephants on the same resources, especially during drought, show that we must simultaneously address the challenge of coexistence between humans and elephants and local adaptations to it. climate change, ”Biggs said.