As our population and urban areas expand and encroach on the last semi-wilderness areas, so negative interactions between people and wildlife are on the rise. International experts meet in Durban next month to find ways to end the conflict.
The fourth International Wildlife Management Congress (IWMC), to be held in Africa for the first time, will stress that reserves are not oases of wilderness untouched by the modern world
On the contrary: they are often sites of the most intense human-wildlife conflict.
Wildlife managers in 2012 must engage with the problems that arise from increasing human-wildlife interaction, from poaching and vehicle collisions to the political complexities of cross-border animal migrations.
Chris Galliers, National Project Manager of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA):
“As population has increased, so has competition for space and resources between humans and wildlife. There is now increased interaction between wildlife and humans (where wildlife still remains).
“For us to retain vital biodiversity and ecosystem functioning we need to engage with people to see how we can live and benefit together with wildlife, rather than being in constant conflict.”
Human-animal conflict: SA's infamous example
No topic in human-wildlife interaction has engaged the South African public more than the rhino poaching crisis over the past couple of years, and Galliers names this as a standout issue on the IWMC agenda.
“Our rhino panel discussion with experts aims to see how the crisis reflects other illegal species trade concerns and what we can learn from the current situation and interventions that could be extrapolated globally.
“I believe learning from each others' experience is core to this congress as the challenges people in the environmental sector are experiencing are not unique; many are global challenges.”
The IWMC's theme, “Co-operative Wildlife Management Across Borders: Learning in the Face of Change”, has mutiple potential meanings, but essentially refers to how nature does not recognize artificial demarcations, be they political boundaries or physical barriers like fences and roads.
The significance of this, says Galliers, is that twenty-first century wildife management should involve regional and even global co-operation and learning; it is at these levels that change is occurring.
The “across borders” ethos gains additional value when viewed in its broadest sense:
“We also need to look at crossing borders in terms of sector boundaries and disciplines to assist us in our efforts. All this comes with the need to learn as we are facing challenges today never experienced before."
Roads: bisecting nature
In keeping with the theme of boundaries, an interesting area to be explored at the IWMC is how roads impact wildlife. Not only do roads often cut through ecosystems, but vehicle collisions with wildlife are a serious problem – both outside and even inside reserves, as occurred earlier this year in the Kruger National Park.
Death from vehicle collisions is the fifth greatest threat to wildlife in Africa (after human conflict, habitat decline, interspecies conflict and disease), yet the issue has attracted little attention; most research has focused on human-vehicle collisions.
Hopefully lessons from first world road studies and mitigation methods such as wildlife overpasses can be applied to the African context and incorporated into local road-building plans.
The topic is likely to be a particularly challenging one in the developing world, where road building is seen as an important mechanism of development. This has potential for conflict with conservation agendas, as highlighted by the recent debacle over the proposed Serengeti Highway.
From humane trapping to domestic cat predation
The broad, often multidisciplinary nature of wildlife management is reflected on the range of topics on the IWMC agenda.
These include such intrigueing presentations as: humane wildlife capture techniques, elephant and kangaroo contraception methods, how to control domestic cat predation, bird and aircraft collisions, and combating animal-related border crime.
The IWMC will be hosted in Durban from 9-12 July 2012 by The Wildlife Society , in partnership with WESSA, South African National Parks, and EZEMVELO KZN Wildlife. For more info, see the IWMC web site.
- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, June 2012