Hippo’s raiding the crops along the Nile, leopards stalking through Indian villages and cities, boars colliding with cars, the everlasting battle with giant hogweed, and livestock and game alike being ravished by wolves. Human-nature conflicts have always been present throughout our history on every continent where humans were already present or set foot. When the human population expanded and got more industrialised the tools for domination or at least attempted domination over certain aspects of nature grew. Mankind has always been rather rigorous in their near military expeditions– or sometimes actual military expeditions when one reads the records of the Australian army going to war with Emu’s in ‘The Great Emu War’ – to subdue threats to their livelihoods or resources. Especially during Victorian times and further into the 20th century a great number of species were wiped of the surface of the European continent or driven in the most far remote corners where contact with humans would be minimal or at least easier to ignore. The wolf, the lynx (all sub-species), the brown bear, the European bison, the jackal, the wild boar, majority of the birds of prey, and even the red deer. Nearly everything that could be shot did receive a bullet to a level that populations vanished entirely or were at the very least drastically reduced.
As ordinary as those massive ‘cleansings’ of certain animal groups were then as unconscionable they seem and are more regularly perceived now. I do say more regularly consciously as a certain distinction is made for the motives of those cleansings and the animals affected by them. While the general public may vigorously disapprove of culling wolves for game interests, the culling of wolves for livestock is a completely other story. What the type of animal is concerned there are enough examples, though the all-out war on the cane toads in Australia is a prime example of a cleansing that is cheered on by most. One might ask: why is this all of importance? I argue this is of grave importance as human-wildlife conflicts signal our current relationship with nature and our environment and it signals where conservation has actually failed. Let me paint you a picture of a vicious cycle in nature conservation:
One must in a lot of cases already be glad when the step ‘stronger policy’ is taken. In European nature conservation, especially regarding larger predators, we are at the step where people feel restricted in their rights and practices. Though someone with a bit of humour might see a vicious cycle as highly sustainable as it keeps itself alive and never ends, this is of course not the case and shows why nature conservation without addressing the social perspective and actually the future perspective is never sustainable. Often species decline because of a conflict with human activities and conservation agencies in response purely focus on getting stronger legal protection for said species without addressing the conflict that caused the decline in the first place. This usually results in illegal activities like poaching and persecution or the people just moving their activity to another place and causing environmental damage there. Sustainable conservation does not simply focus on ‘increasing the numbers of endangered species’ but also on the whole discussion how that will fit in the larger vision of our shared space on this world. This is the case now for Europe which is densely populated but will definitely be the case in Africa where the largest population growth over the coming decennia will take place. Ignoring the conflicts that will arise by simply focusing on increasing the number of species by means of legislation rules out peaceful coexistence with our natural landscapes and thereby sustainable (area) development. The European continent, and especially the mid and western part will now define the model of how to life together with wildlife in a crowded space. Stronger legislation has been put in place and a lots of species have been brought back from near extinction and populations are flourishing. We have arrived at arguably the most difficult part: how are we going to coexist with the wildlife we have brought back? We must set the example here as all continents will face this problem eventually when their development and populations increase further. It is the job of a sustainable development diplomats to find these sustainable conservation models and negotiate and manage or resolve these conflicts. Not doing so will spell the doom of conservation initiatives, if not on the short-term then definitely on the long-term. The world is small and large at the same time: it is too small for us to be able to have enough nature that does not get in contact with humans, but is also large enough for us to be able to share our land with nature and our activities and find the right balance. That balance will allow us to find the peace and space required.