By Kristina Rodina, Forestry Officer (Willdife and Protected Areas), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Each year on 3 March, World Wildlife Day presents us with an opportunity. Not only do we celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wildlife – but we also turn our attention to how to live alongside it harmoniously and sustainably.
Most of the Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity is found in our forests. They sustain and host life, including 80 percent of amphibians, 75 percent of birds, 68 percent of mammals and 60 percent of all vascular plants species.
At the same time, 1.6 billion rural people live within 5 km of a forest and more than 1 billion depend on wild food.
But our forests, and the wildlife that live in them, are under threat.
As human populations grow, so does the demand for natural resources, including land for agriculture. This leads to the degradation and fragmentation of forests and wildlife habitats, with humans and livestock encroaching on forest ecosystems.
Wildlife is increasingly competing with humans for limited natural resources, resulting in an increase in human-wildlife conflict.
Wildlife can destroy crops, damage infrastructure and kill livestock and people. Conflict can also lead to school absenteeism as children stay at home to guard crops or are too scared to walk to school.
For wildlife, conflict with humans presents risks of retaliation. It can also create negative sentiments towards conservation among local communities.
For example, in 2017 more than 8000 human-wildlife conflict incidents were reported in Namibia alone. Tens of thousands of sheep are killed each year by wolves, bears, lynx and wolverines in European countries. And in India, more than 1,700 people and 370 elephants died in human-elephant conflict between 2015 and 2018.
Moreover, forest damage caused by human-wildlife conflicts can lead to reduced productivity and forest regeneration, affect restoration efforts and result in serious economic consequences.
The problems caused by human-wildlife conflict in the broader sense of competition for land and resources has global consequence: the risk of disease transmission increases exponentially when wildlife, livestock and humans come into close contact. Of emerging infectious diseases, more than 70 percent are zoonotic, originating from livestock and wildlife.
Human-wildlife conflict is thus a serious threat to food security, conservation and health. It also hinders progress towards achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals.
How, then, can we reduce human-wildlife conflicts and help rural populations sustainably manage their forest and wildlife resources?
First, we must empower affected communities to design local solutions to manage human-willdife conflicts – something the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been working to help countries achieve.
In Botswana’s North-West District, FAO last year supported local communities to monitor areas with community scouts, fortify predator-proof traditional bomas and engage local communities in wildlife-based tourism.
And in Zimbabwe, FAO and partners have helped local authorities and affected communities to formulate a human-wildlife mitigation strategy, promote sustainable natural resource management for alternative livelihoods and vaccinate livestock against Foot and Mouth Disease.
We also need to bring together different stakeholders across sectors to formulate case-specific policies and strategies. In this regard, technical government officials from 11 African countries came together in 2019 for an FAO-organized multisectoral dialogue in Ghana, where policy priorities and cross-sectoral actions to address human-wildlife conflict were mapped out.
Effective early-warning systems, data collection, monitoring and reporting systems are also vital pieces of the puzzle.
Ultimately, we must recognize that coexistence between humans and wildlife is only possible when communities recognize wildlife’s value and benefits.
Enhancing local commitments to prevent human-wildlife conflicts and halting the degradation of forest ecosystems are key to ensuring a brighter future for all living beings, in the forest and beyond.
This article was originally published with IISD.