Strides In Understanding Human-Wildlife Conflict
Belize, as small a country as it is, is widely known for its wildlife species. People travel far and wide hoping to glimpse the elusive jaguar, and many Belizeans depend on game species like peccaries and pacas for food and their livelihood. Wildlife is embedded in the Belizean culture however it is threatened by over hunting and conflict with people (e.g. crop-raiding livestock predation).
What is human-wildlife conflict?
Human-wildlife conflict refers to the odds between human and wildlife interests, when one impacts negatively on the other. This occurs as the human population grows, shrinking natural habitats and increasing the contact zone between people and wildlife. As a developing country, with many of the natural habitats intact and abundant wildlife, it is no surprise that human-wildlife conflict is common.
What are we doing to address this issue?
Animals are often persecuted if they cause problems for people, or are perceived to cause problems; however, often lethal control or removal of conflict animals treats the symptoms but not the cause of conflict between people and wildlife. Practical solutions requires finding ways to minimize conflicts so as to maintain human safety/health, reduce property damage while maintaining biodiversity.
The Environmental Research Institute (ERI) has partnered with the US-based non-profit Panthera (“Leaders in cat conservation & research”, www.panthera.org) and the Belize Forest Department to better understand the dynamics of conflict between people and big cats in Belize. From this knowledge base, they hope to identify long-term solutions to preserve wildlife and human livelihoods.
Under the 2009-2012 Darwin Initiative large mammal corridor project, ERI-Panthera Wildlife Biologist, Yahaira Urbina led a nationwide survey interviewing over 3,000 Belizeans. to understand wildlife law awareness, hunting and conflict in Belize. One of the objectives focused specifically on identifying the conflict situations and the conflict species. From the eight major municipalities throughout Belize, livestock predation and crop raiding were identified as the common significant conflicts between people and wildlife
In 2012 and 2013, Yahaira and colleagues from the Forest Department assessed levels of livestock predation and predator control, as well as collecting baseline information on farmers’ management strategies and attitudes towards jaguars and other wildlife. Jaguars were often blamed for livestock losses even in the absence of tangible evidence l. The study indicated that improved livestock management could potentially reduce losses to predators.
Now looking at the anthropogenic influences of human-wildlife conflict, through a recent study to quantifying game hunting in the Central Belize Corridor, which identified hunting hotspots, the ERI and partners are planning to take a further look at the relationship between these hunting and conflict hotspots identified. Is over-exploitation of wild game species by people associated with elevated levels of livestock predation? The theory is that with hunting, vital prey species are reduced forcing large predators such as jaguars to alternative food sources, which often means livestock farms.
The team is working on the establishment of a conflict monitoring program that would, through large-scale landscape camera trapping and collaboration with farmers, identify the effectiveness of different farm management strategies in the prevention of wildlife intrusion and further human-wildlife conflict.