When Neighboring Worlds Collide
Thursday, Apr. 20, 2006
Social tools, as well as biological ones, are needed to resolve conflicts between humans and predators, says USU researcher John Shivik.
Fladry, a line of flags hung outside a pasture to dissuade wolves from entering. Photo by John Shivik
Collar designed to protect animal's throat where a predator is likely to strike. Photo by Fred Knowlton.
A device with strobe light and alarm that is activated when a radio-collared predator approaches. Photo by John Shivik.
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
If you ask most people if they care about protecting wolves or mountain lions or bears, they’ll probably say, “Yes … well, as long as they’re not in my yard, my child’s playground, my campsite, my jogging trail, my pasture, my headlights …”
A significant challenge in conserving wild carnivores is finding and developing non-lethal methods for resolving their conflicts with humans, says USU wildlife biologist John Shivik.
“Studies indicate that keeping predators from being killed by humans is extremely important for stopping predator declines,” says Shivik, associate professor in the College of Natural Resources’ Department of Forest, Range and Wildlife Sciences and supervisory researcher for the USDA Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center.
In an ideal scenario, a network of huge, intercontinental wildlife corridors would keep predators roaming yet segregated from areas inhabited by livestock and humans and rarely the twain would meet. But reserves or protected areas for carnivores will never be large enough, Shivik says, which means predators will continue to venture into lands occupied by people and their flocks. This is especially true as the human population grows and increasingly seeks to develop homes and commercial properties in rural and wilderness areas.
The most widely used methods of predation management – traps, poisoning, shooting – were developed centuries ago, he says. While no single non-lethal solution is a panacea, Shivik believes that a combination of methods and interdisciplinary approaches can ease conflicts and ensure carnivore survival.
“We have the technology to do better. How many times a day does each of us walk through an automatic door, swipe a magnetic card or have purchases tallied by a laser scanner?” he says. “We just need to apply innovation and expertise at the intersections of carnivores, people and livestock.”
Shivik recently described varied methods of predation management in “Tools for the Edge: What’s New for Conserving Carnivores,” the cover article for the March 2006 issue of BioScience magazine.
He divides tools into two major categories: disruptive-stimulus methods that deter predators from approaching places where livestock and humans dwell, and aversive-stimulus approaches that actually change animal behavior.
On the one hand, disruptive-stimulus methods offer fairly simple, low-cost tools for keeping predators at bay. For example, fladry – strings of brightly colored flags – prove reasonably effective in dissuading wary wolves from crossing forbidden boundaries. Problem is, the solution is temporary. The “scariness” of this new and different “thing” (flags) wears off and wolves eventually venture forward. The same holds true for alarms and light-making devices.
Still, such methods may be suitable for high-risk, short-duration predation threats, says Shivik.
The other category of tools includes aversive-stimulus approaches that are more costly and time-consuming. Such approaches attempt to condition predators, through such methods as electrical stimulation, physical harassment with non-lethal weapons and taste aversion, to avoid specific areas inhabited by humans and livestock. Attempts to employ these tools have produced mixed results and sometimes pose risks to humans.
Shivik reports that automated radio warning systems have offered some success in monitoring nuisance bears in Yosemite National Park. Use of these systems has increased bear sightings and reduced bear visits to campgrounds. However, such systems are relatively costly and may be difficult to apply to large ranching operations.
Shivik concedes that co-existing with predators presents daunting challenges. “These animals kill things for a living – they’re very motivated.” He says humans need to acknowledge this, along with their own role in creating conflicts.
“If deciding what to do about predators was simply a biological decision, it would be easy,” says Shivik. “You could get rid of cows or get rid of wolves – problem solved.”
But the problem is much more complicated, says Shivik, and future solutions need to develop from a mix of biology, sociology and technology. “Attracting researchers from fields outside the biological sciences, such as sociology and engineering, may be a useful approach,” he says. “While technological advances may well lead to further improvement in predator management, ultimately some of the tools that are most desperately needed are social ones.”
To access Shivik’s full article, visit the BioScience Web site.
Contact: John Shivik, (435) 797-1348, email@example.com
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, (435) 797-1429, firstname.lastname@example.org