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.

How Many Wolves Died for Your Hamburger?

by  Population and Sustainability Director, Center for Biological Diversity


When you bite into a hamburger or steak, you already know the cost to the cow, but what about the wolves, coyotes, bears and other wildlife that were killed in getting that meat to your plate?

There are a lot of ways that meat production hurts wildlife, from habitat taken over by feed crops to rivers polluted by manure to climate change caused by methane emissions. But perhaps the most shocking is the number of wild animals, including endangered species and other non-target animals, killed by a secretive government agency for the livestock industry.

Last year Wildlife Services, an agency within the Department of Agriculture, killed more than 2 million native animals. While wolf-rancher conflicts are well known, the death toll provided by the agency also included 75,326 coyotes, 3,700 foxes and 419 black bears. Even prairie dogs aren’t safe: They’re considered pests, blamed for competing with livestock for feed and creating burrow systems that present hazards for grazing cattle. The agency killed 12,186 black-tailed prairie dogs and destroyed more than 30,000 of their dens.

The methods used to kill these animals are equally shocking: death by exploding poison caps, suffering in inhumane traps and gunned down by men in airplanes and helicopters.

How many of the 2 million native animals were killed to feed America’s meat habit? No one really knows. This is where the secrecy comes in: While we know that they frequently respond to requests from the agricultural community to deal with “nuisance animals,” Wildlife Services operates with few rules and little public oversight. That’s why the Center for Biological Diversity, where I work, has called on the Obama administration to reform this rogue agency to make it more transparent and more accountable. Despite the growing outcry from the public, scientists, non-governmental organizations and members of Congress, the federal agency shows no signs of slowing its killing streak.

There are two important ways that you can help rein in Wildlife Services. First, sign our online petition demanding that the Department of Agriculture create rules and public access to all of the agency’s activities. Second, start taking extinction off your plate. Our growing population will mean a growing demand for meat and for the agency’s deadly services, unless we take steps to reduce meat consumption across the country. By eating less or no meat, you can reduce your environmental footprint and help save wildlife.


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:

The Guardians

Across Africa today wildlife is disappearing, and its story is grim. Yet there is one powerfully bright spot, Namibia, where its people have made the commitment to live with and protect their wildlife. “The Guardians” tells the story of Jantjie Rhyn, a farmer from one of Namibia’s vibrant communal conservancies. Despite the dangers of living with lions and other free-roaming wildlife, Jantjie and his community are committed to their protection because responsible tourism and national pride make his wildlife worth more alive than dead. He represents one in five Namibians that today are directly involved in conservation, making him a true guardian of Africa’s natural legacy. Namibians like Jantjie are showing the world how to improve wildlife and a community’s lives all at once.

A king without a kingdom…

Lion population distribution map

Public Domain Public domain

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has been labelling the iconic lion as ‘vulnerable’ since 1996. Various estimates show that populations have been going down by about 30–50% over each 20-year period of the second half of the 20th century. Starting with a population of around 400,000 in 1950, lions are now down to around 16,500-47,000 living in the wild based on estimates from 2002–2004 (certainly less than that now).

What’s happening? Mostly habitat loss and conflicts with humans, as well as some disease outbreaks.

The best way to illustrate just how much things have changed for lions is with the map above. The red areas show the species’ historic range, while the blue areas show where they can be found today… Sad, isn’t it?

For more on this, see our previous article about the “catastrophic collapse” of lion populations in West Africa.

Personal comment:

I trully hope that this beautiful animal will not be devanished one day. Theere is nothing like hearing the lion roaring from your tenth. I had this amazing feeling both in Botswana and Namibia and there is nothing compaable to it!

To end this post, some lion pics from my last trips


Lion, Botswana. Photo: Rubén Portas


Lion, Botswana. Photo: Rubén Portas


lion cub, Namibia. Photo: Rubén Portas


Collared Lioness, Namibia. Photo: Rubén Portas


Lion, Namibia. Photo: Rubén Portas

Want Dingoes to leave people alone? Cut the junk food

By Thomas M Newsome 
A dingo in the wild.

Dingoes are back in the news, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott raising concerns on ABC radio last week about dingoes in drought-hit areas of Queensland and New South Wales:

I’d learnt some years ago on my Pollie Pedal bike ride that wild dogs were a difficulty in the high country of Victoria, but I now discover that this is a much more widespread problem.

The federal government is close to announcing a new assistance package to help drought-struck areas. Given the Prime Minister’s unprompted remarks, there’s a chance that extra measures to control dingoes will be part of that package.

               Where dingoes are found and are most abundant around Australia.
                                                                                          Queensland and NSW has been particularly hard-hit by rainfall shortages in the past 18 months.

It would be an understandable move, given that dingoes are synonymous with livestock predation and come into conflict with people around some tourist and mining activities.

But while culling to control dingo numbers is one management option, there are other ways to lessen the impacts of dingoes on humans.

Dingoes are opportunistic predators that hunt a wide variety of prey. Consequently, they are especially likely to consume abundant food items. While in many cases this food is likely to be fauna, it can equally be food waste provided by people.

Our research suggests that waste food can be a key resource for dingoes, that has dramatic impacts on the ecology and behaviour of dingo populations. Further, it seems this food subsidy can escalate conflicts between humans and dingoes in all kinds of settings, including on farms, at mines and at tourist attractions.

How do humans change dingoes’ behaviour?

In the Tanami Desert in northern Australia, we compared dingo populations in areas with and without human-provided food. The results demonstrated that access to this food, scavenged from unfenced rubbish tips, altered the diet, weight, movement and social behaviour of dingoes.

Like many people, dingoes readily opt for an easy take-away meal. Discarded food scraps comprised 60-70% of the diet of dingoes living close to a rubbish tip, whilst further away, reptiles, especially blue-tongues and goannas, were dingoes’ primary prey.

Dingoes scavenging at a rubbish tip.
Click to enlarge

Our most recent study, which has just been published in the Journal of Mammalogy, confirmed that the eating habits of dingoes around the tip were similar to free-roaming domestic dogs in a nearby township. This is akin to dingoes acting just like man’s best friend.

Eating human-provided food scraps also had consequences for dingoes’ weights. As with over-consumption of other “junk” foods, they got fat: animals living close to the tip were 20% larger than their desert-living counter-parts. Further, these labrador-like dingoes moved only about half as much as dingoes in other areas. One dingo that ate food scraps had a home range size of only two square kilometres. This is dramatically smaller than another dingo, well away from human-provided food, which ranged over 2000 square kilometres. With food provided daily at the tip, dingoes didn’t need to roam over large areas hunting prey.

Contrasting dingo movements: the lines represent movement paths and the circle represents the main area of occupancy. Thomas NewsomeCC BY-NC-ND  Click to enlarge

The reduced dingo movements were also associated with drastically altered social behaviour. Ordinarily, dingoes maintain small family groups and will actively defend their territories to ensure they have access to food and water. Every day at the tip, where there was regularly sufficient food for at least 225 dingoes, we observed 50 to 100 individuals. From the DNA samples we collected from some of the dingoes using the tip, it was apparent that a group of at least 55 closely related individuals were living close by; a five- to ten-fold increase on typical dingo family size. Despite this, little aggression was observed, even towards dingoes visiting from away.

As well as changing the size and behaviour of dingoes, people appear to have also compromised the genetic purity of this remote population. We observed higher rates of cross-breeding between dingoes and domestic dogs around the facility, suggesting it might have been easier for domestic dogs to infiltrate dingo society where food was abundant.

Cutting down on conflict

Our key point is that access to easily available food appeared to drastically alter the way dingoes live and behave. And that could alter how dingoes interact with other predators and prey.

That could have important knock-on effects, because dingoes can help the environment and humans by suppressing overabundant animals that they prey on, including emus and kangaroos and possibly goats and rabbits. In some situations, they may even suppress smaller predators in their area, such as foxes and cats.

Our research found that when humans make food too easily available, it appeared to have mostly negative consequences. That includes sustaining and increasing dingo populations to unnaturally high levels – potentially leading to more conflict with humans.

An example of a properly built predator-proof fence at a rubbish facility. Thomas Newsome,CC BY-NC-ND Click to enlarge

Our findings are important given that people are increasingly making it easier for dingoes to eat our food scraps. Rubbish tips at mine sites, townships, remote communities and tourist areas throughout Australia are often left unfenced, or so poorly fenced that dingoes can freely access food.

Fortunately, addressing this problem is remarkably simple. At large industrial facilities (like mine sites), predator proof fences can be erected around food resources, such as rubbish tips.

At tourist facilities, including campgrounds and picnic areas, predator-proof containers for the storage of food and rubbish will help.

A predator-proof storage container (with bear-proof doors) installed in Yosemite National Park in the US. People and bears co-exist at Yosemite without the need for fencing around the camp ground. Thomas NewsomeCC BY-NC-ND  Click to enlarge

Of course, it would be ideal – and cheaper – if people would simply remove the waste they generate. Doing so would reduce the need for intensive, costly and often controversial management, such as culling or excluding dingoes, to ensure human safety.

Dingoes around a cattle carcass in Ravenshoe QLD. Carcasses attract a plethora of wildlife including dingoes. Graham Wienert and Invasive Animals CRC  Click to enlarge

Although it is difficult to deal with carcasses in pastoral operations, it is worth highlighting that these provide easy, take-away meals for dingoes. Similarly, dumping homestead food waste and carcasses in poorly constructed tips is an open invitation to enterprising predators.

Better and more consistent management of food scraps would contribute to a reduction in human-dingo conflict. It may even decrease rates of cross-breeding between dingoes and domestic dogs, a process that may permanently change the characteristics of Australia’s dingo.

Importantly, removing human food would enable the dingo to fulfil its natural ecological roles, including keeping a check on other animals like kangaroos. In the long-run, that will create benefits for all of us – including farmers.