Climate Change, Disease, & Human-Carnivore Conflicts
Climate change has profound effects on the planet’s ecosystems, wildlife habitat and range, and even on individual species’ physiological development. For example, climate change can impact terrestrial carnivore’s teeth and body size, as well as their population sizes and distribution. Climate change can also exacerbate conflicts between nonhuman and human animals as both compete for increasingly limited habitable space and food sources. The relationship between climate change, humans, and big cats, specifically, is complex.
In this paper, researchers explored the relationship between climatic change in the twenty-first century, diseases of domestic animals (i.e., livestock), and human-leopard conflicts in 34 villages located around Golestan National Park in Iran. Based on their analysis, they conclude that conflicts between humans and leopards are most common when climate change creates humid conditions and livestock are more prone to disease such as hoof infection. As wild prey disperse, livestock take their place, expanding into areas of lush vegetation for grazing. The authors posit that livestock afflicted with hoof infections may not be able to flee from these areas as easily, making them ideal prey for the cats.
For wildlife advocates, this local study raises important questions of global relevance. Significantly, it’s the first study of its kind to provide empirical evidence that shifting climate patterns ultimately lead to human-leopard conflicts. What other cascades could climate change be causing?