AboutZoos, Since 2008


Human-​tiger con­flict: Are the risks overestimated?

pub­lished 22 Jan­u­ary 2013 | mod­i­fied 22 Jan­u­ary 2013
Tiger sharpening clawsStudy finds a com­plex web of fac­tors increases per­ceived risk of tiger attack in the Sun­dar­bans of Bangladesh

Wildlife con­ser­va­tion­ists are well aware of the poten­tial con­flicts that exist between the endan­gered species they seek to pro­tect and the human pop­u­la­tions which inhabit areas where the ani­mals live. Car­ni­vores, such as tigers, pose a risk to humans and their live­stock and can be killed because of this poten­tial risk. Pre­vi­ous research has found that killing of ani­mals can be moti­vated as much by social and psy­cho­log­i­cal fac­tors, such as per­cep­tion of dan­ger, as by any actual real risk posed by a species.

A new study pub­lished in the Jan­u­ary issue of the Springer jour­nal Human Ecol­ogy has iden­ti­fied sev­eral key fac­tors which may con­tribute to per­cep­tions of risk from tigers in a con­ser­va­tion area in Bangladesh. The study, by Chloe Inskip and her col­leagues from the Dur­rell Insti­tute of Con­ser­va­tion and Ecol­ogy in Kent, UK, and WildTeam, Bangladesh, is the first to use par­tic­i­pa­tory risk map­ping (PRM) and in-​depth inter­views to explore the wider socio-​economic con­text of human-​tiger con­flict.

The sur­vey was car­ried out around the Sun­dar­bans man­grove forests of south-​western Bangladesh, home to one of the world’s largest remain­ing tiger pop­u­la­tions. Although there are no human inhab­i­tants of the Sun­dar­bans, eight sub-​districts with a total pop­u­la­tion of around 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple lie directly adja­cent to the for­est bound­ary. Records indi­cate that approx­i­mately 3050 peo­ple are killed annu­ally by tigers in the area.

The researchers held 54 semi-​structured inter­views in six vil­lages which bor­der the Sun­dar­bans for­est, fol­lowed by 385 ques­tion­naires in a fur­ther ten bor­der vil­lages. Of all the issues related to lives and liveli­hood, tigers were the most com­monly reported prob­lem. Other issues recorded were largely poverty-​related includ­ing low incomes, depen­dence on nat­ural resources, poor infra­struc­ture and ser­vices and a lack of clean water together with soil ero­sion and weather. Inskip and her col­leagues iden­ti­fied the fact that these issues had a direct impact on vil­lagers’ per­cep­tions of risk from tigers. The respon­dents’ per­ceived sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to and their abil­ity to mit­i­gate human-​tiger con­flict was influ­enced largely by their poverty related-​problems.

The authors sug­gest that any actions taken to improve these socio-​economic issues will also reduce the per­ceived level of risk from tigers and help to reduce the rate at which tigers are killed. For con­ser­va­tion­ists, this would mean a shift from tra­di­tional mod­els of con­flict reduc­tion to holis­tic mod­els which also incor­po­rate situation-​specific actions to reduce risk per­cep­tions. In many poor, rural com­mu­ni­ties in con­ser­va­tion areas such as the Sun­dar­bans, risk per­cep­tion reduc­tion is likely to be tied strongly to poverty alle­vi­a­tion.

The authors believe that the abate­ment of killing endan­gered species will only be achieved if the human dimen­sions and social con­text of human-​wildlife con­flict sit­u­a­tions are well under­stood and appro­pri­ately man­aged. They con­clude that “par­tic­i­pa­tory risk map­ping (PRM) and qual­i­ta­tive research are valu­able tools for enhanc­ing under­stand­ing of and iden­ti­fy­ing actions to address the wildlife-​related risk per­cep­tions which can influ­ence killing behav­iour.” Address­ing risk per­cep­tions will require long-​term com­mit­ment and fund­ing.

(Source: Springer Select media release, 21.01.2013)
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