Human-wildlife conflicts rising worldwide with climate change

The climate crisis is causing an increase in conflicts that result in injury or death to humans and wildlife, new research shows. Scientists reveal that a warming world is increasing human-wildlife conflicts globally.

They show that climate changes can drive conflict by altering animal habitats, the timing of events, wildlife behaviours, and resource availability. It also showed that people are changing their behaviours and locations in response to climate change in ways that increase conflict.

The research, led by scientists at the University of Washington‘s Center for Ecosystem Sentinels and published in Nature Climate Change, reveals that a warming world is increasing human-wildlife conflicts.

The climate crisis is making it difficult to obtain healthy food, water and habitats, forcing animal and human populations to relocate to new ranges or previously uninhabited places. It is also changing the way they behave.

This means an increase in human-wildlife conflict, as well as damage to personal property and loss of livelihoods for people, according to a review article led by the University of Washington.

The team looked at 30 years of research and found that the number of studies linking climate breakdown to the conflict had quadrupled in the past 10 years compared to the previous two decades. They warn of an “extraordinary breadth” of places already affected.

Have Human-wildlife conflicts risen due to climate change?

Yes, human-wildlife conflicts have been on the rise around the world, and climate change is one of the factors contributing to this trend. As temperatures and weather patterns change, they can alter the natural habitats and behaviours of many animal species.

This, in turn, can lead to increased human-wildlife encounters, as animals may venture into new areas in search of food, water, or shelter.

For example, as temperatures rise in some areas, it can lead to droughts that make water sources scarce, forcing wildlife to seek alternative sources, including those that may be close to human populations.

Similarly, as forests and other habitats are affected by factors related to climate change, such as wildfires, animals may be forced to flee to nearby residential areas.

In addition to these direct impacts of climate change on wildlife, human activities such as deforestation and urbanization can also contribute to human-wildlife conflicts.

As humans move ever deeper into natural habitats, they may inadvertently alter the behaviour of animals and increase the likelihood of conflict.

Efforts to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts can include measures like educating communities about how to coexist with local wildlife, implementing stronger conservation measures to protect animal populations, and investing in research to better understand how climate change is affecting wildlife behaviour.

Human-wildlife conflict on every continent

The article, published in Nature Climate Change, looked at 49 cases of human-wildlife conflict on every continent except Antarctica, and in all five oceans. From 2.5mg mosquitoes to 6,000kg African elephants, the conflicts involved all major wildlife groups: birds, fish, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates.

Changes in temperature and precipitation were the most common conflicting factors, cited in more than 80% of the case studies.

The most common outcome was injury or mortality to people (43% of studies) and wildlife (45% of studies). Conflicts are defined as direct human-wildlife interactions that have a negative outcome for one or both.

“We found evidence of human-wildlife conflict exacerbated by climate change on six continents, in five different oceans, in terrestrial systems, in marine systems, in freshwater systems, involving mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, and even invertebrates,” said lead author Briana Abrahms, a UW assistant professor of biology.

“Although each individual case has its own variety of different causes and effects, these climate-driven conflicts are truly ubiquitous.”

How Human-wildlife conflicts increase due to climate change?

The new study shows that climate changes can drive conflict by altering animal habitats, such as sea ice for polar bears, as well as the timing of events, wildlife behaviours, and resource availability.

It also showed that people are changing their behaviours and locations in response to climate change in ways that increase conflict. Other examples of the effects of short-term and long-term weather events include:

Human-wildlife conflicts are increasing around the world due to climate change in a number of ways:

Habitat and behaviour changes: Climate change is causing changes in the availability and distribution of resources, such as water and food, for wildlife. This, in turn, is causing the animals to move into new habitats and change their behaviour.

For example, some species of animals are moving to higher elevations or further north in response to rising temperatures. These changes can bring animals into contact with humans, leading to increased conflict.

Increased competition for resources: Climate change is causing changes in the timing of natural events, such as the timing of plant growth and the migration patterns of animals.

This can cause different species to compete for resources at the same time, leading to increased conflicts.

Changes in the spread of diseases: Climate change is causing changes in the range and prevalence of diseases affecting wildlife, which may also increase conflicts with humans.

Changes in land use: Climate change can also cause changes in land use, such as increased deforestation and urbanization.

This can cause animals to lose their natural habitats and be forced to move to areas where they are more likely to come into contact with humans.

Examples where human-wildlife conflict growing due to climate change:

  • Torrential flooding in Tanzania prompted more lion attacks after their usual prey migrated from the floodplains.
  • Higher air temperatures in Australia triggered more aggressive behaviour in eastern brown snakes, leading to more snakebite incidents.
  • Wildfires in Sumatra, Indonesia, triggered by El Niño, have driven Asian elephants and tigers out of reserves and into human-inhabited areas, resulting in at least one death.
  • The disruption of terrestrial food webs during La Niña events in the Americas drove black bears in New Mexico and foxes in Chile to human settlements in search of food.
  • Warmer air and ocean temperatures in a severe El Niño led to an increase in shark attacks in South Africa.
  • In Scotland, rising temperatures are causing an increase in barnacle geese, which eat the grass farmers want for their sheep.

Change in precipitation

Most climate-related cases of human-wildlife conflict involve a change in resources, not only for wildlife but also for people.

Most of the cases on land also involved a change in precipitation, which will continue to be affected by climate change. Many resulted in death or human injury, as well as property damage.

In 2009, for example, a severe drought hit the western part of the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania. This reduced food supplies for African elephants, which in turn would enter local fields to graze on crops, sometimes destroying 2-3 acres a day.

Local farmers, whose livelihoods were directly threatened by the drought, sometimes resorted to retaliatory killing of elephants to try to mitigate these incursions.

“Identifying and understanding this link between human-wildlife conflicts is not just a conservation issue,” Abrahms said. “It’s also an issue of social justice and human security.”

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