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Myths and assumptions about human-wildlife conflict and coexistence

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Recent extinctions often resulted from humans retaliating against wildlife that threatened people’s interests or were perceived to threaten current or future interests. Today’s subfield of human-wildlife conflict and coexistence (HWCC) grew out of an original anthropocentric concern with such real or perceived threats and then, starting in the mid-1990s, with protecting valued species from people. Recent work in ethics and law has shifted priorities toward coexistence between people and wild animals. To spur scientific progress and more effective practice, we examined 4 widespread assumptions about HWCC that need to be tested rigorously: scientists are neutral and objective about HWCC; current participatory, consensus-based decisions provide just and fair means to overcome challenges in HWCC; wildlife threats to human interests are getting worse; and wildlife damage to human interests is additive to other sources of damage. The first 2 assumptions are clearly testable, but if they are entangled can become a wicked problem and may need debunking as myths if they cannot be disentangled. Some assumptions have seldom or never been tested and those that have been tested appear dubious, yet the use of the assumptions continues in the practice and scholarship of HWCC. We call for tests of assumptions and debunking of myths in the scholarship of HWCC. Adherence to the principles of scientific integrity and application of standards of evidence can help advance our call. We also call for practitioners and interest groups to improve the constitutive process prior to decision making about wildlife. We predict these steps will hasten scientific progress toward evidence-based interventions and improve the fairness, ethics, and legality of coexistence strategies.

Document: Myths-and-Assumptions.pdf  PDF icon

Author(s): Adrian Treves and Francisco J. Santiago-Avila

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