When Wild Animals Attack Farmed Animals
A major challenge to sustainable development is human-wild animal conflict. In many areas of the world, large carnivores make important contributions to human life through the maintenance of ecosystems and generating tourism. However, attacks from these predators are a serious threat to the communities who live alongside protected lands and rely on their farmed animals for survival.
Large carnivores are also suffering, as they are regularly killed in retaliation for their attacks on farmed animals. Killing large carnivores at unsustainable rates also causes disruption within their ecosystems, which may result in negative consequences not only for humans, but for all surrounding life, and certainly for the large carnivores themselves. As global rangeland continues to increase, large carnivores face a real threat of extinction due to these conflicts with humans.
In this study, the authors set out to explore the potential economic losses that human communities face as a result of conflict with large carnivores. First, they studied the financial impact (per capita) of losing one farmed calf across 133 countries that overlap with land known to include large carnivores that threaten cows. They found that the potential economic losses associated with a large carnivore predation event were eight times higher for people in developing countries than in developed ones. Furthermore, in the most economically vulnerable countries, human communities are at risk of losing up to twice their annual income when a single calf is lost to a large carnivore. This is in stark comparison to the most economically developed countries, where the loss of a single calf has only a negligible financial impact.
The study also found that 82% of the geographic distribution of the large carnivores was outside of protected zones. Overall, 23% of the distribution overlapped with communities where a predation event would represent a severe economic burden. Ten species (out of 18 observed) had over a third of their range overlapping those same economically sensitive areas.
In addition to financial losses, the authors also examined the direct and opportunity costs of lost calories to households resulting from the loss of a single cow or bull. In developing countries, the immediate calories lost equate to about one and a half years of daily calories for a young child and about two-thirds of a year for a teenager and adult. Opportunity costs are also high, as a cattle keeper’s family loses the potential for future dairy and meat products. Even their pastoralist lifestyle may become jeopardized by the loss of a single cow or bull, as a result of reduced reproductive potential and, eventually, diminished future herd size.
Lastly, the paper compared animal price and meat yield across developing, transition, and developed economies. The authors found no significant differences between prices in these economies either in a single year (2009) or across many years (starting in 1961). However, when they observed meat yield, they found that cows from developed economies produced significantly more meat per animal than cows from developing and transition economies. This was true for a single year (2009) and across many years (since 1961).
The authors mention that the analysis is likely conservative because they only examined the potential consequences of a single attack and the loss of only one calf, cow, or bull. They also acknowledge the difficulty of attaching financial value to cows in cultures where the species are regarded as holy or are otherwise interwoven into the cultural identity. Also missing from the analysis are hidden costs, such as increased workload to compensate for financial losses. Lastly, the authors note that the costs to mental health are also likely high but were not included in the analysis.
While the results of this study seem bleak, there is some hope for co-existence of human communities and large carnivores. For example, some communities have found financial benefits through ecotourism and payments for protecting wild animals. Others have improved the protection of their farmed animals either with physical structures or through the use of human or canine guards. Animal advocates could help protect wild animals in these areas by assisting local communities in their efforts to generate ecotourism and rely less on animal herding.