Addressing wildlife conflicts is about attitude

By Tim Snow (Director of Wildlife Poisoning Prevention and Conflict Resolution)

Systems thinking simply means analysis and review of cause and effect of the problem and the management response, to ensure responses were efficient, effective, appropriate environmentally and financially; and achieved appropriate results. The manner of addressing problem is influenced by attitude to success or failure with odds at fifty-fifty.

Emotion, misunderstanding and exaggeration can influence attitude and perceptions, making it critical to remain logical for the outcome to be successful. Probably the greatest failure in management is failure to accept and acknowledge facts and respond accordingly.

Doing nothing is also a management decision, but has to be appropriate and not just a case of ignoring a problem. Doing the same thing repeatedly cannot be expected to achieve different results.

Good management demands awareness, knowledge and analysis of facts. Many only respond to a crisis. The most elegant form of managerial decisions involves problems that never have to be solved because they are prevented from occurring, because they are anticipated and avoided. Yet, there is often appreciation for the manager who can step in and counter the problem after it happens than one who can make it not happen. Coping with crisis is dramatic. Prevention is unpopular, because it usually means change. It is thankless, because the only testimony of its effectiveness is a non-event.

Even so, a deliberate non-catastrophe is one of the most impressive contributions a manager can make. Wildlife conflict resolution seems logical, but it is not always simple. The solution may be obvious, yet so prohibitively expensive as to be impossible. A rural African village enclosing their croplands with a cable fence to exclude elephants is not impossible but it’s not likely because of prohibitive cost. It’s more likely that they would dig a trench, build a barricade, plant chilli bushes as a repellent around the crops, or make chilli-sisal rope fences or combustible chilli bricks.

Black and white photograph of an elephant, sourced from pixabay by creator Sponchia

Some conflict managers suggest paintball guns, but how many villagers have this luxury?

The TV programme Survivor, uses the strapline “outwit, outplay, outlast”. What is most important in managing conflict is a determined attitude. Elephants and bees don’t get along, so bee hives may help, provided they are raised above the ground and are connected to be disturbed by raiding elephants, because otherwise the beehives could attract honey badgers – a secondary conflict! Consider also the risk to villagers. Ethiopian farmers use a “push-pull” method to inter-crop cotton and maize.

Bollworms are a pest common to both crops, but favour the maize which means the cotton is spared and the maize sacrificed. Vegetable growers also plant African marigolds to deter insects and snails.

Natural animal breeding is synchronised within a season when food is plentiful and the survival chances for the young are greatest. This process gives the young safety in numbers and enhances survival, because the number of survivors exceeds predation.

In the livestock farming arena one has to think laterally about enabling greater safety for calving or lambing animals by protection. In the case of dairies and expensive livestock, it makes sense to build predator exclusion fences, because the value of certain animals justifies the expense of protection. Animals are vulnerable in thick vegetation and in long grass after good rains, and some farmers distribute day old chicks around the farm during calving or lambing to reduce predator hunger and minimise impact on the calf crop. Feeding with condemned carcasses from the local abattoir is another option for creating a diversion, but these methods can only reduce or minimise losses; and may unnaturally support unwanted predators. By feeding predators, the farmer may be picking the cane for his own back.

Many factors make every situation slightly different and what works for one may not work for another; and after all is said and done, predators also have to eat. These are not the only conflicts with wildlife. Naughty monkeys and baboons seem to make mischief everywhere, but when one thinks this issue through carefully and applies the systems thinking process to identify the cause of the problem it becomes clear that bad waste management by humans is often the cause of the conflict. Primates learn that humans are wasteful, so a daily visit to the waste disposal may get them a meal and save hours of foraging.

They become bolder and more brazen, because their negative behaviour results in a positive reward. The solution is waste management. Reduce, re-use and recycle. It is about human attitude. Often the problem becomes severe before municipal and lodge managers will take steps by pro-active planning and management. Seeing the potential problem and preventing it from happening is a very valuable management process.

A monkey that threatens human children for food soon realises the small humans scream, drop the food and run away. Just like dustbin raiding, the negative encounter produces a positive reward for the monkey, and results in repetition. Monkeys raid homes for easy food, because humans “forage” at supermarkets and display fruit bowls on accessible tables.

The solution is mesh screens on windows, and simply just storing food out of sight. Monkeys are ultra-intelligent thieves, with time to wait for humans to drop their guard. This problem can’t be underplayed or oversimplified and there is so much more to this issue than can be covered by this short overview.

One may conclude that many wildlife conflict situations are caused by humans and their activities. Proper planning and management, coupled with clear and logical systems thinking can lead to a paradigm turnabout of wildlife conflict where the “problem” becomes redefined.

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Tim Snow is a well qualified consultant in wildlife poisoning prevention, wildlife conflict and wildlife management and has over 40 years of field experience in Africa.


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