The LIVEstock initiative
Human-carnivore conflict is a global issue that has broad implications for both carnivore conservation and human well-being. In fact, over three-quarters of the remaining large carnivore species on the planet have populations that are declining and conflict with humans is considered one of their biggest threats. As human populations grow and expand, conflict with carnivores is expected to increase as both parties compete for access to finite natural resources.
The LIVEstock initiative aims to explore the mechanistic drivers of human-carnivore conflict using an interdisciplinary research approach. Our aim is to inform conservation efforts through our research findings and productive collaborations with local communities, government agencies, and academic institutions.
Rural Tanzania experiences some of the highest rates of human-carnivore conflict in the world due to the presence of multiple large carnivore species and a landscape that features a diverse mosaic of national parks, wildlife conservancies, and human settlements. Livestock are a direct representation of economic well-being for many agropastoralists in Tanzania, and livestock depredation represents a substantial threat to human welfare. Therefore, in response to depredation, some individuals will retaliate by killing and/or maiming the carnivores deemed responsible. Given the weight and prevalence of this issue, the question becomes: what are the ecological, social, and environmental factors that lead to depredation and how can we effectively mitigate conflict for the benefit of humans and carnivores alike?
The study area
The Maasai Steppe, Tanzania provides a novel and important system in which to examine human-carnivore conflict. It is a 22,000 km2 area made up of a matrix of three protected areas, interspersed with village lands that support a human population of 350,000. The local residents are primarily Maasai, Waarusha, and Barabaig agro-pastoralists, who keep a range of livestock including sheep, goats, cattle, and donkeys. The protected areas – Tarangire National Park, Manyara National Park, and Manyara Ranch Conservancy - help foster large populations of lions (Panthera leo), spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), and leopards (Panthera pardus). We study human-carnivore interaction in this landscape in collaboration with Dr. Bernard Kissui, Director of the Tarangire Lion Project and Center Director at the School for Field Studies' Center for Management Studies.
Our team is working to build a comprehensive and holistic understanding of the drivers of conflict between humans and carnivores in this area. As such, we have developed an interdisciplinary and multifaceted research program which includes examinations of the behavioral choices made by lions and cattle in regions of varied predation risk, the effect of vegetation structure and landscape features on carnivore movement patterns and encounter rates with livestock, and how wild prey densities and anti-predator behaviors may be driving interactions between carnivores and domestic prey. We are also investigating the social dimension of human-carnivore conflict, through the use of tools such as Photo Voice, which provide a unique perspective on local perceptions of risk, value, and emotional connection to the landscape and wildlife.
Conservation and COmmunity
Our overall goal is two-fold: to support sustained livelihoods in human communities as well as the persistence of wild carnivore species into the future. In a system full of complex ecological, social, and economic concerns, these two pursuits may at times seem incompatible. However, we believe that by building strong partnerships with local people and applying cutting-edge technology and research methods to our investigations, we will begin to see positive changes. Through our collaborations with the School for Field Studies and village primary schools, we teach field techniques and conservation principles to Tanzanian and American students. We investigate livestock depredation events and apply conflict mitigation with our teammates at the Tarangire Lion Project. In all of our work, we strive to make lasting positive impacts for wildlife in the parks, bushlands, and grazing areas, and in the lives of the people that call these places home.