AboutZoos, Since 2008


Large preda­tors recover – share land­scape with humans in Europe

pub­lished 23 Decem­ber 2014 | mod­i­fied 23 Decem­ber 2014

Wolverine on rockThe recov­ery of large car­ni­vores in Europe is a great suc­cess for nature con­ser­va­tion. At one third of main­land Europe, at least one species of large car­ni­vore is present, accord­ing to an arti­cle pub­lished on 19 Decem­ber in the sci­en­tific jour­nal Sci­ence. It is an excel­lent exam­ple that humans and car­ni­vores can share the same land­scape, says main author Guil­laume Chapron, from the Swedish Uni­ver­sity of Agri­cul­tural Sci­ences (SLU).

By the early 20th cen­tury, large car­ni­vores had been exter­mi­nated from most of Europe, with just relict pop­u­la­tions per­sist­ing. Now we have increas­ing or sta­ble pop­u­la­tions of brown bears, wolves, Eurasian lynx and wolver­ines, and they do not live in a remote wilder­ness but in a human-​dominated landscape.

That is a great dif­fer­ence in com­par­i­son to the strate­gies being pur­sued in other parts of the world where car­ni­vores are mainly pro­tected in large national parks or wilder­ness areas, sep­a­rated from peo­ple. If Europe had used that model we would hardly have any car­ni­vores at all because there are not enough large areas of wilder­ness remaining.

The large car­ni­vores are an exam­ple of species that have ben­e­fited from this pan-​European leg­is­la­tion and that the Habi­tats Direc­tive [Euro­pean Union leg­is­la­tion on habi­tat con­ser­va­tion, Moos] works
Guil­laume Chapron, lead author, Grimsö Wildlife Sta­tion, Depart­ment of Ecol­ogy, SLU »

This is a suc­cess story that builds on a good leg­is­la­tion, polit­i­cal sta­bil­ity, strong insti­tu­tions and a favourable pub­lic opin­ion”, says Guil­laume Chapron. In addi­tion, Europe’s forests and wild her­bi­vore pop­u­la­tions are in far bet­ter shape today than they were 100 years ago.

The envi­ron­men­tal move­ment in the 1970’s and 1980’s paved the way for the Coun­cil of Europe’s Bern Con­ven­tion and the EU’s habi­tat direc­tive leg­is­la­tion that has given these species the oppor­tu­nity to recover. More about the Euro­pean Commission’s work on large car­ni­vores here.

76 researchers have con­tributed to the Sci­ence arti­cle, among them five from the Swedish Uni­ver­sity of Agri­cul­tural Sci­ences (SLU). They have com­piled data and pro­duced a dis­tri­b­u­tion map for large car­ni­vores across most of Europe. A few high­lights from the article:

Brown bears are cur­rently present in 22 coun­tries. It is the most com­mon large car­ni­vore in Europe with 17,000 indi­vid­u­als that can be clus­tered into ten pop­u­la­tions. All pop­u­la­tions are rel­a­tively sta­ble or slightly expand­ing, although a few remain crit­i­cally small.

Wolves are the sec­ond most com­mon species, about 12,000 indi­vid­u­als, with ten pop­u­la­tions in 28 coun­tries. Most of the pop­u­la­tions are increas­ing, but a cou­ple of pop­u­la­tions seem to be decreas­ing. One Span­ish pop­u­la­tion is on the brink to extinction.

Lynx are present in 23 coun­tries, with 9,000 indi­vid­u­als. Most of the eleven pop­u­la­tions are sta­ble but some of them are decreasing.

Wolver­ine live only in Swe­den, Nor­way and Fin­land, in two pop­u­la­tions with 1,250 indi­vid­u­als. Both pop­u­la­tions are increasing.

Guil­laume Chapron says that Europe can be an exam­ple for other parts of the world.

Europe has twice as many wolves as the USA (exclud­ing Alaska) in spite of being half the size and more than twice as densely pop­u­lated. Our expe­ri­ence illus­trates the incred­i­ble abil­ity that these species have to sur­vive to the mod­ern, human-​dominated world.”

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, peo­ple in Europe are pos­i­tive to car­ni­vores but the con­flicts that caused the his­tor­i­cal declines are still present, like pre­da­tion on live­stock. The most severe chal­lenges for large car­ni­vore con­ser­va­tion are in coun­tries where large car­ni­vores have pre­vi­ously been totally extir­pated and where peo­ple have lost their adap­ta­tions to shar­ing the land­scape with their wild neigh­bours. Fur­ther­more, species like wolves have been co-​opted as pow­er­ful sym­bols for wider polit­i­cal and social ten­sions between rural and urban areas.

A vari­ety of prac­tices that reduce dam­age on live­stock, like elec­tric fences and livestock-​guarding dogs, can facil­i­tate co-​existence. Fur­ther­more there is a need for dia­logue between stake­hold­ers and coop­er­a­tion between dif­fer­ent sec­tors and dif­fer­ent coun­tries. It is cru­cial that these con­flict issues are taken seri­ously to pre­vent a pos­si­ble back­lash against con­ser­va­tion in general.

More infor­ma­tion about the wildlife come­back in Europe is avail­able in the detailed report ‘Wildlife come­back in Europe’ (pub­lished 2013 by the Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Lon­don and BirdLife Inter­na­tional, com­mis­sioned by Rewil­d­ing Europe).

(Source: SLU press release, 18.12.2014)

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Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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