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Tolerance for predators?

Monday 7th July 2014

Tolerance for predators

Off we go to retaliate… 


In an excellent article in the journal Science, authors Adrian Treves and Jeremy Bruskotter examined various attempted means of reducing declines of predator populations due to direct human causes. They say that scientists and policy-makers have concluded that promoting tolerance to such predators is critical to conservation efforts, but that the factors that promote tolerance are not well understood.

Treves and Bruskotter begin by stating that “whether in the form of eradication policies (such as bounties) or illegal killing” it is widely assumed that intolerant behaviour is “motivated by retaliation for real and perceived losses of livelihood”.

Consequently, a number of governments and NGOs have implemented compensation schemes to reduce the economic consequences of living with predators. Do these work?

Well, yes and no. The authors look at Sweden – where reindeer herders are paid to tolerate predators. And it worked – for wolverines, brown bears and lynxes. But not for wolves. Another study concluded that 51% of Sweden’s wolves had been killed illegally by individuals between 1998 and 2009. So reindeer herders basically accepted payments to tolerate predators that do not have much of a negative impact on their “livestock” – but wolves were still being killed.

The authors then mention that such compensation programmes need to be supplemented by social change – quoting a joint programme in Kenya where (partial) compensation is matched by community guards urging no retaliation. While this programme doubtless performs better than locations where there is no compensation in preventing killing of predators, the results need a more robust evaluation. For example in Sweden, 69% of the wolves killed by communities were hidden.

The authors then move on to another important subject – what they call the “influence of peers and social norms”. Here they use an example of jaguars in Brazil – and conclude that ranchers kill jaguars because their neighbours do. Also they mention that if there are government eradication schemes in place – like for wolves in Wisconsin – tolerance of wolves greatly declines. This makes sense – if the government wants to get rid of wolves and peers want to get rid of jaguars, why should individuals tolerate them?

The authors not surprisingly conclude that mixed messages are dangerous. But the authors also do not address many other important points. One of which, to be sure, is that perhaps predators prey on livestock (and reindeer) because their natural prey base has been significantly destroyed. In Sweden, wolves cannot exist on rabbits alone, and while compensation might be available to reindeer farmers, what is the government doing to ensure that wolves do not, out of increasing necessity, need to turn to farmed reindeer for their sustenance? Similarly, in Kenya, has rampant bushmeat poaching reduced natural large predator prey populations to the extent that they need to turn to cattle to survive?

In which case compensation and social education has a very limited prospect of success. The very basic tenet in Kenya and Tanzania is that pastoralists like the Maasai have traditionally tolerated (some) predators on their land. Maasai, for example, have a long and existing cultural relationship with lions – but not so much with leopards and cheetah and not at all with hyenas. And even with lions, a Maasai Elder recently said – “I like lions but not when they are near my boma”.

The authors also, and perhaps unsurprisingly, do not address tolerance schemes proposed by trophy hunters. That scheme says that by allowing trophy hunting to take a few predators, and paying communities for hunting concessions on their land, there will be increased tolerance. Or did the authors not find much supporting evidence for this scheme? See our blog on the minimal returns to communities from hunting concessions on their land.

Clearly much more needs to be done to improve tolerance for predators. These animals have a high “existence value” for some and a negative existence value for others.

It is imperative and overdue that the communities themselves have to be involved in designing tolerance programmes – conditions, effectiveness and relevance – as the communities are the ones who will ultimately decide on the fate of very many surviving predator populations.
Community involvement in wildlife conservation has long been “promoted” by conservation agencies but we have yet to see significant involvement of grassroots initiatives being taking seriously.

We have proposals for such a programme and are seeking funding.

With existing tolerance programmes predator survival rather significantly remains in the balance.

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Posted by Chris Macsween at 14:18

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