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Wildfires are driving tigers to Sumatran villages. Drought driving elephants in Africa’s crops. Warmer ocean temperatures are forcing whales into shipping lanes.
Humans and wildlife have long coexisted in harmony. Climate change is often converging, new research finds, intensifying battles over habitat and resources.
“We should expect these species to continue to fight in the future,” said lead researcher Briana Abrahms, a wildlife biologist at the University of Washington. “He’s going to be an important driver of the weather, we can better predict when they will meet and help us.” [intervene].
Human-wildlife conflict is defined as any time humans and wildlife have a negative interaction: a car hitting a deer; carnivores to kill cattle; A hungry bear entered the remote village of Vae in search of food.
Abrahms, who was studying large carnivores in Africa and the implications of humpback whales off the Pacific Coast, began to notice patterns of human-wildlife conflicts that seemed to be driven by the effects of climate change. She and a team of researchers looked at three decades of published research on human-wildlife conflict on six continents and five oceans to see if there was a climate connection.
The 49 case findings all followed a similar pattern, Abrahms said. “There is some driver of the climate that changes what people do or what animals do and that leads to increasing these conflicts.”
They found that the most prominent driver of conflict involved the transfer of resources. In the land, that often meant an abundance of water.
Climate change has disrupted precipitation patterns around the world. The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that nearly half of the world’s population is experiencing severe water scarcity for at least one month a year due to climatic and other causes.
Scarcity forces both humans and wildlife to seek new sources of water, often bringing them into conflict. Many of those interactions, according to the new paper, have resulted in the deaths or injuries of people, as well as the loss and damage of property. The findings were published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
In Zimbabwe and southern Africa, for example, rainfall patterns have become more unpredictable and droughts have increased as the climate has warmed.
“Local communities aren’t the only ones struggling with unpredictable precipitation patterns that make food insecure in the first place,” Narcisa Pricope, a professor of geography at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, told NPR last summer. “But on top of that, animals have to live in very close proximity because of the contraction of water availability across the landscape.”
At least 20 people were killed in exercises with elephants last year, according to the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
Drought has also been linked to increased wildlife vehicle collisions in Australia and North America. In California, the drought and wildfires have devastated millions of acres of land, forcing deer, elk, black bears and mountain lions to seek new habitats. The public transport agency warned in 2021, putting motorists’ animals at increased risk.
Collisions between vehicles and large mammals cause an estimated $8 billion in property damage and other costs each year, according to the Highway Administration.
Knowing that these fighting species will grow more as the climate continues to warm, Abrahms said, it’s important for organizations and people to look at solutions.
Take acute dryness, as Knowing that the animals were going to run out of food, he said, “we make ourselves close the car and put food in the campsites.”
The first step, he says, is to try and prevent harmful traffic before it starts.
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