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Human - Wildlife Conflict - Why moving towards a mindful co-existence is crucial for people and wild

How would you react to a tiger in your backyard or an elephant dropping food for you in your garden?

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As human populations expand and natural habitats diminish, human and animal populations are increasingly coming into direct or indirect conflict over living space and food. An example of that phenomenon occurred last week in Parnitha Mountain Refuge when a wolf attacked and killed the pet dog of a family strolling nearby. From baboons in Namibia attacking young cattle, to greater one-horned rhinos in Nepal destroying crops, to foxes and bears killing livestock – the problem has global dimensions, affects rich and poor, and is bad news for all concerned.

What is Human-Wildlife Conflict?

Human-wildlife conflict(HWC) is when encounters between humans and wildlife lead to negative results, such as loss of property, livelihoods or even life, as well as persecution of the species involved in the conflict. HWC affects most large carnivores including but not limited to deers, bears, wolves, sea turtles, seals, birds of prey etc.

A HWC incident is often followed by retaliation against the species blamed, generating a problematic eye-for-an-eye situation as well as many questions on how to remedy this situation. In order to get a better understanding of this pathogeny, let’s delve deeper into the wolf incident.

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Problem 1: Feeding Wildlife

The mountain of Parnitha is not only a natural habitat rich for wildlife such as wolves, chamois and ferrets, but also a recreational area close to the urban fabric attracting hikers and nature-lovers, who often think that leaving food in multiple places on the mountain is a gesture that helps feeding and supporting the local animals. Although this tactic comes from good intentions, it is actually harmful for the wildlife as it makes it dependent and (over)familiar with humans.

Problem 2: Dangerous Hybridization between Species

Breeding between species is a major concern causing behavioural issues. Referring to the Parnitha incident, Mr. Mertzanis of the Callisto Wildlife & Conservation Society mentioned that hybridization of dogs with stray dogs tends to modify wolves’ behaviour as their genetic material-genome is not 100% wild, which makes them look more tame/domestic and adds to their familiarisation with humans.

Problem 3: Loss of Habitat due to Urbanisation

The ongoing process of urbanisation has affected wolves in many ways.

Previously, much of the wolves’ prey base was destroyed as agriculture and urban areas flourished. With the prey base removed, wolves began to prey on domestic stock, which resulted in humans eliminating wolves from most of their historical range.

Nowadays, areas that were once used for logging, farming and hunting have become forests again and hence wolves are starting to reappear. These wolves are young in age, and therefore do not ‘know’ that humans are creatures they are meant to avoid. That conjuncture, combined with the fact that visitors are often inconsiderate of the ‘rules’ necessary to peacefully coexist with wildlife, and most natural parks are under-resourced and under-staffed, makes the boundaries within the species challenging.

Mitigating Conflict

Effective mitigation strategies are urgently needed in order to resolve this issue, and a wide range of easy steps can be adopted.

  • Physical separation of conflicting species and resources e.g. fencing and livestock enclosures, not letting family pets into national parks with conflicting species.

  • Don’t feed wildlife. By doing that, you're not only protecting the animals from the repercussions of eating potentially dangerous food and becoming over-familiar with humans, but also we are protecting ourselves. Many carnivorous mammals tend to follow the paths of others as "safe" so if we feed one animal, more might come to follow. Leaving no trash-and food residues-behind comes as a no brainer.

  • Avoid walks in natural parks and wildlife natural habitats alone. According to the rules of the Forest Fire Protection Volunteers of Attica, volunteers and visitors should be in groups of at least 3 people. Also, talking-not screaming or playing music very loudly!- is a helpful way to ‘notify’ the animals of your presence and give them time to distance themselves first.

  • Report the presence of wildlife in the competent authorities and the environmental organisations, especially if they behave oddly (e.g. they are close to a residential area, they eat from the garbage). This way, you contribute to the research and conservation of the species.

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