Some essentials on coexisting with carnivores

Coexisting with carnivores can be a challenge, but their value makes it worthwhile, as Professor John Vucetich and Professor David Macdonald explain

The well-being of many human communities depends on healthy forests and grasslands. Those ecosystems can be degraded by over-browsing and over-grazing by large herbivores – moose, deer, elk, gazelles and so forth. That overconsumption is far less likely to occur when large herbivores are limited by healthy populations of large carnivore – wolves, lions, lynx, wolverine, bears, etc. Moreover, ecosystems with healthy populations of large carnivores tend to have greater levels of overall biodiversity. In a nutshell, and at risk of glossing over details, the conservation community has concluded that large carnivores have great ecological value.

Nevertheless, human communities often find it difficult to live near populations of large carnivores. Difficulties arise in three ways. First, carnivores kill domestic livestock, which provides for the well-being of some humans. Carnivores do not kill for malice; they do so because their well-being depends on it. Moreover, carnivores would naturally prey on wild animals. In many cases, however, the wild prey have been displaced by domestic livestock.

Second, carnivores kill wild prey that is also hunted by humans for subsistence or recreation. In this way, large carnivores are treated as competition to be eliminated.

Third, some species of large carnivores, on some occasions, threaten and take human lives. Important examples include human-eating lions in portions of Africa and human-eating tigers in portions of south Asia.

While these three elements of conflict are real, they are also frequently and grossly exaggerated. In the United States, for example, the impacts of wolves on livestock and hunting are very small and wolves do not pose a threat to human safety1. Yet, these concerns are an important fuel for wolf persecution.

Under threat

Genuine and perceived threats lead to humans killing carnivores at high rates through illegal poaching and legal culling and hunting. The result of all this killing is that two-thirds of the world’s carnivore species are threatened with extinction and most places do not have their native compliment of carnivores. The end point of treating this conflict – as humanity has thus far – is irreversible extinction and gross mistreatment of carnivores that manage to persist. An important element of this conflict concerns the received and oft-repeated motivation offered for why carnivores should be treated better: because they are ultimately of value to humans. The genuine wellbeing of humans is an important reason to conserve, but it is not the only one and alone it is inadequate.

European colonists and their descendants drove various large carnivores to extinction over a substantial portion of eastern North America. Britain drove its large carnivores – wolves, lynx and brown bears – to extinction centuries ago. It is difficult to mount a case that the wellbeing of those humans is worse as a result of those extinctions. When an object (think, carnivores) is valued only for its utility, its utility may go unrecognised, be outweighed by costs of maintaining it, or replaced by a substitute. This is not a denial of carnivores’ utility, but an acknowledgement of the risk in valuing something only for its utility. As such, nature’s utility is an (important, but) insufficient motivation for conservation.

Conserving carnivores

What if, carnivores are valuable, not only for advancing human wellbeing but also because they have a value in their own right? What if, we have an obligation to treat carnivores fairly and with at least some concern for their wellbeing? The response to those questions begins with the supposition that humans possess this kind of value and are entitled to this kind of treatment because we have interests (e.g., to avoid pain and to flourish). It follows that any entity with such interests would also possess this kind of value. Because all vertebrate organisms possess those interests, they also possess this kind of value and deserve this kind of treatment. The force and universality of this reasoning are indicated by the principle of ethical consistency, i.e., treat others as you would consent to be treated in the same position. Most human cultures are undergirded by some variant of this principle (e.g., golden rule). This intrinsic value of at least some non-human portions of nature is widely acknowledged – reflected by sociological evidence and many instances of laws and policies. Ethicists encapsulate these ideas by saying that carnivores (and many other forms of life) possess intrinsic value2.

Future success in carnivore conservation will depend, in part, on better understanding ideas that will foster effective and fair mitigation and adjudication of conflict, especially:

  • The extent to which conservation can be achieved through protected areas and land-sparing, opposed to land sharing3;
  • Mechanisms of socioeconomic behaviour that adversely impact carnivores. Some elements may be underappreciated (e.g., wealth inequality,4) and other elements may be favourable to conservation (e.g., tendency to increasingly embrace nature’s intrinsic value with increasing economic development,5);
  • How to subsidise coexistence by compensating those adversely affected by living with carnivores. The challenge is tailoring compensation in ways that are fair and effective, yet do not foster, e.g., perverse incentives, additionality, or leakage6;
  • How to best juxtapose the values of conservation and social justice in a manner that genuinely honours the intrinsic value of carnivores without being misanthropic7.

Conservation is no longer limited by ecological knowledge about carnivores’ ecological value or needs. Increasingly, the limiting factor is an effective application of knowledge arising from the synthesis of social sciences, social justice and conservation.

1 Vucetich (2016), Oversight Hearing, United States House Of Representatives.

2 Vucetich et al. (2015), Conserv Biol,

3 Fischer et al. (2014), Conserv Biol,

4 Holland et al. (2009), Conserv. Biol.,

5 Bruskotter, Vucetich, et al. (2017), BioScience,

6 Dickman, Macdonald, & Macdonald (2011), Proc Natl Acad Sci, USA.

7 Vucetich & Nelson (2010), BioScience,


Professor John A. Vucetich

School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science

Michigan Technological University


Professor David W. Macdonald

Wildlife Conservation Research Unit

The Recanati-Kaplan Centre, Department of Zoology

University of Oxford




Blood does not buy goodwill

In the paper published Guillaume Chapron and Adrian treves in Proceedings B of the Royal Society (Blood does not buy goodwill: allowing culling increases poaching of a large carnivore), the authors looked at whether removing protection for large carnivores would decrease illegal hunting. This idea is supported by many governments. Does it work as expected? Find out by watching this video and by reading the paper available at

Abstract of the paper:

Quantifying environmental crime and the effectiveness of policy interventions is difficult because perpetrators typically conceal evidence. To prevent illegal uses of natural resources, such as poaching endangered species, governments have advocated granting policy flexibility to local authorities by liberalizing culling or hunting of large carnivores. We present the first quantitative evaluation of the hypothesis that liberalizing culling will reduce poaching and improve population status of an endangered carnivore. We show that allowing wolf (Canis lupus) culling was substantially more likely to increase poaching than reduce it. Replicated, quasi-experimental changes in wolf policies in Wisconsin and Michigan, USA, revealed that a repeated policy signal to allow state culling triggered repeated slowdowns in wolf population growth, irrespective of the policy implementation measured as the number of wolves killed. The most likely explanation for these slowdowns was poaching and alternative explanations found no support. When the government kills a protected species, the perceived value of each individual of that species may decline; so liberalizing wolf culling may have sent a negative message about the value of wolves or acceptability of poaching. Our results suggest that granting management flexibility for endangered species to address illegal behaviour may instead promote such behaviour.

The Risk of Captive Carnivores

I would like to share with you a very interesting article written by the The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) about the risk of keeping carnivores in captivity and the bussiness behind. Many so-called NGO`S, Charities, etc which argue to work for carnivore conservation are part of one of the most unethical bussiness. Not only they keep wild animals in captivity as pets but also translocated what they call “problem animals” to new areas without monitoring the translocation, without a scientific protocol and viability study and sometimes (most of the times) without even a permit.. Please read and share the article, it would help you to identify who are this so called NGO´s and Charities:

captive cheetah

Picture above: Captive adult cheetah male showing submissive behavior

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is growing increasingly concerned about the proliferation of captive facilities holding a range of carnivores in South Africa for the sole purpose of tourism and financial gain. We urge the public to consider a few facts when visiting any of a number of these facilities that hold lions, Cheetah, Leopards, Wild Dogs, hyena and even some exotic (non-native to South Africa) species such as tigers and panthers.

* No captive carnivore facility is breeding carnivores for release into the wild, despite what they may claim. Captive carnivores do not contribute to the conservation of free roaming populations; they are not releasable and they do not form part of any registered conservation or management plan for any carnivore in Africa.

* In many carnivore facilities, petting and bottle feeding of cubs is offered, for a fee. These cubs are often taken away from their mothers to stimulate faster reproduction and provide aconstant supply of petting carnivores. Visitors pay to pet the animal and have their photograph taken with it, as well as with their slightly older tame carnivore siblings.

* These carnivores become human imprinted, they do not grow up in a natural social group, and this makes it impossible to release them into a natural habitat for the long-term. This, coupled with the disease risk posed by captive bred animals, as well as their potentially dubious genetic lineage renders them a risk for release to not only themselves, but to other free roaming carnivores.

* Frequently the situation of a ‘paying volunteer’ is exploited for further financial gain, with volunteers being told that the carnivore mothers are not able to care for their offspring and that once they are old enough, hand-raised carnivores will be returned to the wild.

* “There are approximately 6 000 captive lions in South Africa bred for a variety of economic purposes”, as opposed to approximately 2 300 free roaming in reserves and parks. [Draft Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP) for Lions, 2015]. In fact the BMP defines Captive Lions as being “lions [that] are bred exclusively to generate money. Managers actively manipulate all vital rates and demographics.”


Picture above: Captive adult cheetah male showing both aggressive and defensive behavior

The EWT’s concern relates to the public’s understanding of the role and the purpose of captive carnivores and these facilities in carnivore conservation and we urge the public to better understand the role of these facilities as well as the risk that these animals may pose to the public:

* Captive bred carnivores are always more dangerous than their wild counterparts. They lose their fear of humans and tend to associate humans with food providers. Their social structures are heavily interfered with and their natural cycles are often manipulated. A wild carnivore will usually steer away from humans but a captive bred carnivore may not feel the need for such caution.

*  A facility breeding carnivores will usually have to sell their offspring; it stands to reason that they cannot always have cubs and youngsters if they do not sell ‘excess’ animals.

* The captive bred lion hunting industry in South Africa has increased rapidly in recent years and South Africa is increasingly supplying captive bred lion bones for export to Asian markets.

* The Department of Environmental Affairs released figures in December 2013 that stated that “South Africa officially issued permits for the export of nearly (if not more than) 1 300 dead lions from South Africa to China, Lao PDR and Viet Nam from 2011 to 2012 inclusive.” BMP, 2015.

* “The so-called ‘canned hunting’ industry for lions has also increased in recent years and the total value generated from hunting captive lions amounted to about R98 million in 2006/2007.” Lion BMP, 2015.

* This raises the question: where do all these lions come from or go to? In South Africa, a thriving canned hunting industry can, in many cases, be linked to an equally thriving industry based on cub petting and commercial captive breeding centres.

Some may argue that there is educational value in allowing people to handle wild animals. Howeverthis kind of education provides the incorrect message that wild animals exist for human entertainment, that they can be petted like domestic animals. They also do not learn much about the natural behaviour, social structure or role of free roaming carnivores.
It is important to note that captive breeding is not a conservation recommendation for any carnivore species in South Africa. Carnivores in fact breed extremely well in the right conditions and for almostall our threatened carnivore species, the conservation priorities include reducing human-wildlife conflict, securing suitable habitat, reducing illegal offtake and maintaining balanced, functioning ecosystems. Without these in place, captive breeding leads to an over-supply of non-releasable animals which often end up as trophies. We also question that any funding generated from captive carnivore breeding goes to support the conservation of free roaming carnivores.

The EWT does not allege that any specific facility is breeding carnivores for the lion bone trade or forthe practice of ‘canned hunting’ but we do urge the public that visit these facilities to ask at the very least these critical questions:
· What is the plan for the long-term future of the animals in this facility?
· Where are the cubs’ mothers?
· Why are cubs not being raised by their mothers?
· What happens to the facility’s cubs when they grow up?
· If they are released into larger wildlife areas, where are these and can the facility provide documentation to prove a viable, ethical and successful release process?
· If the facility is breeding, do they have a management plan that determines responsible husbandry and management of all stock?
· Do any of the ‘stock’ have the opportunity to live out their natural lives, or are they hunted or bred with again?
· What happens to the facility’s surplus animals?
· Can the public inspect the record books of the facility and follow the life cycle of an individual animal?
· If these animals become part of another breeding programme, for what purpose?

The EWT calls for a more active participation from the public in questioning the role of all captive carnivore facilities and the management of the animals in their care. We also call on the tourism sector to recognise the role that they may be playing in supporting some facilities that cannot account for the conservation claims that they make. Find a pdf of the article HERE

Contact: Kelly Marnewick
Carnivore Conservation Programme Manager
The Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 11 372 3600

Yolan Friedmann
The Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 11 372 3600
Lillian Mlambo
Communications Manager
The Endangered Wildlife Trust
Tel: +27 11 372 3600

To this words, I would like to add a few links:

Does hunting impact carnivore recruitment?

Recruitment in a social carnivore before and after harvest” is the title of a recent paper published on the Journal Animal Conservation of the Zoological Society of London that shows collateral impacts of harvesting wolves:

We attributed just 18–38% of pup mortality directly to harvest and suggest that there are indirect effects of harvest on recruitment that may be associated with changes in group size and structure. Models that do not include both direct and indirect effects of harvest on recruitment may underestimate the potential impact of harvest on population growth in social species.”

The article does not have open access and it is available HERE but you can read it in this LINK.

Other recommended reads:

Arctic Alaska’s Conservation Conundrum

By  Dr. Joel Berger

The Arctic wind blows hard on the snow-covered plains a few hundred miles southwest of Prudhoe Bay.  It’s eight degrees in the winter chill. Despite global warming, I am still quite cold.  I watch the tracks of the grizzly bear disappear upslope as they narrow toward a newborn calf. Out of my field of vision its mother, a muskoxen – the quintessential land animal of the Arctic – stands guard. But it is no match for the powerful predator looking for its next kill.

Grizzly bears circle in the foreground with musk ox and calf in the distance, Joel Berger © Wildlife Conservation Society

About 3,500 years ago, the last woolly mammoths died on a distant Arctic island in the Chukchi Sea. Muskoxen—mammoths’ shaggy-coated Pleistocene contemporaries—still roam the Alaskan Arctic today. Muskoxen are known to many for their distinctive huddling behavior evolved for defense against predators like grizzly bears and wolves.   Recently this prey-predator relationship has itself become the focus of a discussion on conservation tools and approaches. Continue reading

Rapid loss of top predators ‘a major environmental threat’

Scientists warn that removal from ecosystem of large carnivores like the dingo could be as detrimental as climate change

Dingoes keep kangaroo and fox numbers down, which means less overgrazing and more small native animals. Photograph: AAP

The rapid loss of top predators such as dingoes, leopards and lions is causing an environmental threat comparable to climate change, an international group of scientists has warned.

A study by researchers from Australia, the US and Europe found that removing large carnivores, which has happened worldwide in the past 200 years, causes a raft of harmful reactions to cascade through food chains and landscapes.

Small animals are picked off by feral pests, land is denuded of vegetation as herbivore numbers increase and streams and rivers are even diverted as a result of this loss of carnivores, the ecologists found.

“There is now a substantial body of research demonstrating that, alongside climate change, eliminating large carnivores is one of the most significant anthropogenic impacts on nature,” the study states.

The research looked at the ecological impact of the world’s 31 largest mammalian carnivores, with the largest body of information gathered on seven key species – the dingo, grey wolf, lion, leopard, sea otter, lynx and puma.

In Australia the downfall of the dingo, which has been largely pushed out of the country’s eastern and southern states, has had a number of detrimental effects. Dingoes have been culled to prevent them preying on sheep, while inter-breeding with dogs has also had an impact.

Dr Mike Letnic, the report’s co-author and research fellow at the University of NSW, told Guardian Australia that his studies either side of the vast dingo-proof fence showed the consequences of their absence.

“We found there were more small native animals such as poteroos and bilbies where the dingoes were,” he said. “That’s because they [dingoes] suppress foxes, which have given small mammals a really hard time since they were introduced.

“Dingoes also kill kangaroos, so losing them means more kangaroos. That means areas are overgrazed, nutrients are lost from the soil and you risk desertification of areas. More dingoes aren’t ideal for kangaroos, but they are a net benefit to the ecosystem.”

This increase in kangaroo numbers in parts of Australia has had other unintended consequences, with the marsupials targeted by farmers for competing with livestock for prime grazing land. Letnic said they may even be to blame for outbreaks of Ross River fever.

Further afield, researchers found that the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone national park in the US caused a reduction in deer numbers, in turn benefiting the park’s trees and plants.

The spread of Lyme disease in the US was partially attributed to booming deer numbers, which host the ticks that carry the disease, while an increase in the number of herbivores grazing is thought to change the flow of local rivers, making them straighter and threatening creatures that dwell in slow-moving waters. Loss of vegetation also removes key carbon storage from the environment.

Letnic said: “A good example is in west Africa, where people removed lions and leopards. They then suffered an outbreak of baboons, which give small animals a hard time but also give people a hard time. They raid crops, which mean that kids don’t go to school because they have to guard the crops all day.

“Overall, we’ve got to find better ways to live with carnivores. They aren’t always easy to live with, but they are an important part of the ecosystem.

“In terms of dingoes, we need to find landscapes where they are left alone or actively promoted. In livestock grazing areas we need to work out what impact they are having and work out a system, perhaps with guard dogs, that we can use to avoid killing them off.”


Access to the article by clicking  here

Predator Conservation relies on understanding human psychology


Young Leopard. Bwabwata National Park, Zambezi Strip (Namibia). Credits: Ruben Portas

The world’s predators – mammals such as gray wolves, jaguars, tigers, African lions, European lynx, wolverines, and black and brown bears, along with sharks – are declining at an alarming rate. While those species are suffering for a variety of reasons, one of the main sources of mortality is human in origin. It’s a bit counterintuitive, since predators are some of the more charismatic of species. And charismatic critters are the easiest ones about which to convince people to care.

It would seem as if the best way to ensure the success of conservation programs aimed at preserving these most iconic of species would be to turn humans from enemies into allies. In other words, humans have to become more tolerant of predators. The problem, according to researchers Adrian Treves and Jeremy Bruskotter, is that we don’t know very much about what makes people tolerant of some predators and intolerant of others. In an article in this week’s issue of Science Magazine, they argue that wildlife conservation efforts ought to account for human psychology.

One of the primary assumptions driving research in conservation psychology is that intolerance toward predators, whether in the form of sanctioned eradication programs or culls (like gray wolves in the US orbears in parts of Europe or sharks in Australia) or in the form of illegal poaching, is driven mainly by the real or imagined need to retaliate against losses of livelihood, usually due to livestock predation. “Under this assumption,” Treves and Bruskotter write, “governments and private organizations aiming to protect predators have implemented economic incentives to reduce the perceived costs of predator conservation and raise tolerance for predators.”

One such program is implemented in Sweden. The government pays indigenous reindeer herders called Sami to tolerate the occasional loss of livestock to predators, and it seems to be effective for wolverines, brown bears, and lynxes. Each time a predator successfully reproduces, the Sami herders are paid.

But that strategy is only effective insofar as the source of predator intolerance is economic. That might work for some predators, but not for others. Fifty-one percent of Sweden’s wolves died from poaching between 1998 and 2009. The Swedish program has so far failed to protect gray wolves because the Sami perceive the costs of tolerance as weightier than the benefits. At present, wolves are effectively extirpated from parts of the country where reindeer graze.

An adjustment of social norms may succeed, however, where economic incentives fail. In Kenya, Maasai herders are not just compensated when lions kill their livestock; some community members are trained to warn villagers when lions approach, and monitor their movements. It reflects a different strategy, one of cautious coexistence driven by altered social norms rather than rigid defensiveness driven by externally imposed economic remuneration.

A similar effort is implemented in Brazil, for ranchers whose livestock graze near jaguar territories. In one study, researchers interviewed 268 cattle ranchers about their tolerance for jaguars, and found that perceived social norms were far more influential than economic disincentives when it came to determining any individual rancher’s likelihood to kill a jaguar. In other words, if ranchers thought that their neighboring ranchers killed jaguars, or if they thought that their neighbors would expect them to kill jaguars, they were more likely to do it. It’s the very same peer pressure that plays out in high schools across America, superimposed onto Brazilian rainforests. “The social facilitation that results in areas where poaching is common and accepted can create predator-free zones as neighbors and associates coordinate their actions explicitly or tacitly,” write Treves and Bruskotter.

Things aren’t so different in the industrialized West, where sport hunters are often thought of as valuable partners in conservation. The reasoning goes that since hunters at one time helped to conserve game species (like deer and ducks), then hunters would also help conserve predators who are designated as legal game. One program in Wisconsin was designed explicitly to increase tolerance for wolves by allowing 43 of the endangered canids to be killed each year. And yet while the program was in place, researchers found a decrease in tolerance and in increase in the desire to kill wolves. Legalizing the hunting of predators, even in a restricted way, didn’t have the intended outcome.

Wisconsin’s wolf hunting program wasn’t a controlled experiment, so the interpretation of the results is necessarily limited. However, some researchers did organize a controlled experiment to see how various approaches might improve tolerance for American black bears. The researchers discovered that providing people with information about the benefits derived from bears along with information about how to reduce the risks of negative bear encounters increased peoples’ tolerance for the animals. On the other hand, information about how to reduce risks alone, without the additional information about benefits, actually reduced their tolerance. Treves and Bruskotter suspect that’s because the risks were made more salient without the buffering effect of the bears’ benefits on local ecosystems. Similar results were seen for studies investigating the tolerance of tigers in Nepal.

Taken together, Treves and Bruskotter argue that while monetary incentives can be successful tools in the conservationist’s toolbox, poaching is influenced more strongly by social and cultural factors. “We therefore recommend caution in legalizing the killing of predators,” they say. They further argue that the best way to move forward in understanding when economic and social incentives are more or less effective is through explicit experimental manipulation, rather than through the haphazard patchwork of trial and error that has in many cases characterized predator conservation efforts. – Jason G. Goldman | 2 May 2014

Source: Treves A. & Bruskotter J. (2014). Tolerance for Predatory Wildlife, Science, 344 476-477. DOI: