Climate Change is Increasing Human-Wildlife Conflicts Worldwide

Climate Change is Increasing Human-Wildlife Conflicts Worldwide ...

Kathy Crane/NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory photographing a single polar bear as it swims vast distances in the Arctic to find food. As a result of the rapid loss of sea ice in northern latitudes, many polar bears have been forced onto land and into human settlements to scavenge.

Climate change's effects on humans and ecosystems have traditionally been classified as separate entities. However, a recent study has demonstrated the interwoven nature of humans and their environment, as shown by a global increase in human-wildlife conflicts.

Scientists from the University of Washington's Center for Ecosystem Sentinels and the journal Nature Climate Change have discovered that human-wildlife conflicts are increasing.

Climate change has resulted in conflicts between people and animals on six continents, in five different oceans, in terrestrial systems, in freshwater systems, and even invertebrates, according to lead author Briana Abrahms, a UW assistant professor of biology.

Lions and other large carnivores hunt livestock in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Credit: Briana Abrahms

The team scoffed over peer-reviewed human-wildlife conflicts and identified instances that were specifically linked to climate change. These include both short-term climate events — such as a drought — as well as longer-term changes. Polar bears are increasingly traveling on land, sometimes attacking individuals, as an example in Alaska.

Climate variations can induce conflicts by altering animal habitats, such as sea ice for polar bears, as well as the timing of events, wildlife behaviors, and resource availability, according to a new research.

  • Torrential floods in Tanzania led to more lion attacks after their usual prey migrated away from floodplains.
  • Higher air temperatures in Australia triggered more aggressive behavior in eastern brown snakes, leading to more incidents of snake bites.
  • Wildfires in Sumatra, Indonesia — triggered by El Nino — drove Asian elephants and tigers out of reserves and into human-inhabited areas, leading to at least one death.
  • Disruption of terrestrial food webs during La Nina events in the Americas drove black bears in New Mexico and foxes in Chile into human settlements in search of food.
  • Warmer air and ocean temperatures in a severe El Nino led to an increase in shark attacks in South Africa.

Climate change is linked in most instances to humans and animals. Not just for wildlife, but also for humans.

This humpback whale is caught in a rope from fishing gear in the West Coast Region of NOAA-NMFS. Credit:

The majority of land claims involved a shift in precipitation, which will continue to be affected by climate change. Many involved human deaths or injuries, as well as property damage.

A severe drought in Tanzania's Kilimanjaro Region struck in 2009, resulting in a decline in food supplies for African elephants, who then entered local fields to graze on crops, often killing two to three acres daily. Local farmers, who suffered directly as a result of the drought, retaliated against them in various ways.

"Identifying and understanding the relationship between human and wild life conflicts is not only a conservation concern," said Abrahms. "It's also a social justice and human safety concern."

Climate change is likely to increase, especially as large numbers of people and animals migrate and resources shift.

Allerdings, the story doesn't have to be all bad news.

African elephants can leave protected areas in search of food in search of food, causing crop damage and attacks on people. Credit: Briana Abrahms

"We can identify patterns and trends as we learn about specific incidents, and we can devise strategies to address or reduce these conflicts," according to Abrahms.

Governments can also organize for times when extreme climate events will bring people and animals into contact, such as in Botswana, for example, which has funds in place to compensate herders and ranchers for drought-induced livestock killings in exchange for promises not to engage in retaliatory killings.

"We have now robust drought forecasts. Governments may begin budget planning ahead of time to minimize conflict," said Abrahms. "Avoid a 'rainy day' fund, have a 'dry day' fund."

One example of Abrahms' accomplishments is in the eastern Pacific. In 2014 and 2015, a record number of humpback and blue whales were caught in fishing lines off the coast of California. Later research revealed that an extreme marine heat wave had pushed whales closer to shore, following their primary food sources. California regulations now vary the start and end of each fishing season according to climate and ocean conditions in the Pacific.

"These examples demonstrate that once you know the root causes of a conflict, you may design actions that benefit both humans and animals," said Abrahms.

Briana Abrahms, Neil H. Carter, Kaitlyn M. Gaynor, Alex McInturff, Anna C. Nisi, Kasim Rafiq, and Leigh West, all of whom participated in the Nature Climate Change, will be consulted on 27 February 2023. DOI: 10.1038/s41558-023-01608-5.

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