CSI in wildlife management

“How do you know you have caught the trouble maker?”

This is a quote from a wildlife manager who ought to catch the ‘right’ problem bear who had broken into a house. Wildlife management with regard to (potential) human-animal conflicts is far from an easy job.

Conflicts between humans and wild animals are increasing worldwide. These conflicts arise, because the human population is still growing, while territories of wild animals are shrinking. This means that people will have more and more encounters with wildlife. This raises the question: how to manage these human-wildlife interactions that the outcomes of these interactions are no longer dangerous? In fact, the main aim is that cohabitation is achieved between humans and wild animals. This research investigates this question by using case studies of wild boar management at the Veluwe, the Netherlands and black bear management at the Colorado Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, USA. Based on my research I can present four important lessons:

First: the interactions between humans and wild animals are key in managing human-wildlife conflicts. This means that management should no longer focus on either humans or the wild animals that are involved in a particular conflict situations. But I argue that humans and wild animals co-shape spaces, which means that management should focus on their interactions and find solutions along this way to achieve cohabitation. Thereby it is essential to understand what each of them do in particular situations.

Second: wild animals are not be seen as objects. They do things, they influence management decisions in unexpected ways. They learn from particular situations, learn from conspecifics, and this leads to …<see the third lesson>

Third: it is impossible to have full control over wild animals. There is no one universal solution available to deal with the manifold human-wildlife conflicts around the world. Interactions between humans and wild animals are continuously being redefined as a result of changing landscapes, changing weather conditions, changing climate, etc. As such, wildlife management needs to be dynamic as well. This influences where and what ways of cohabitation can be created or even disappear (temporarily) between humans and wild animals.

Fourth: next to formal ways of knowing, non-standardized or informal ways of knowing are important in achieving cohabitation. This refers to the mutuality that is involved in knowing and managing wildlife, in other words the various entanglements of humans, wild animals and the landscape. This is hard to express in a number or even in words. However, it is exactly this kind of knowing that is essential to produces the required formal ways of knowing, such as quantitative data.

Thinking about the ‘problem bear’ at the beginning, this wildlife manager acknowledges that each bear has his/her own ‘method’. This wildlife manager intends to understand and anticipate his/her behavior by unraveling his/her method and use that knowledge in employing the best management strategy. Additionally, what is especially relevant in relation to cohabitation is to understand what has caused the ‘crime’, and can we use that knowledge, e.g. trash in the case of many bear conflicts in Colorado, in finding ways to live together that are non-lethal?

So, what’s next?

My research indicates that to pursue cohabitation we don’t need to collect more and rely merely on standardized ways of knowing. It is exactly the combination of the formal ways of knowing, such as representing trends, combined with the more informal, affective ways of knowing, that are needed to produce the former data, to seek ways for humans and wild animals to live together. Conducting more experiments in the practice of wildlife management is one of many options.

Management stories, which I refer to in a very broad sense: stories about interactions with wild animals, told by wildlife managers, wildlife researchers, policymakers, local resident, tourists etc. Those interactions, those stories in which ‘the animal’ take center stage, are, in my view, very useful to encourage creative thinking about how to accomplish a more dynamic and multinatural management. To collect the stories, told by the animals in whatever way, is possible through these human-animal interactions, which are central in these management stories. It is through these stories that it might be possible to discover and understand what exactly happened in particular places and what we can learn from those interactions, such as how humans and wild animals respond to each other and live together, without immediately slide back to strategies of human domination.

Who has a story to tell? Please let me know!