Snakes in India, dingoes in Australia, elephants in South Africa: HSI works globally to resolve human-wildlife conflicts
A 12-year-old student, on his way home from school in India, is bitten by a snake. He doesn’t realize what’s happened but collapses soon after and dies later that day at a hospital. Meanwhile, in Romania, conflicts with brown bears are increasing due to habitat encroachment, improper waste management, and tourists attempting to feed them and getting too close in order to get a selfie.
These stories, recently in the news, have a common thread: they are both examples of the terrible things that can result when animals – even those who are naturally shy – encounter humans. The outcome is usually not a good one.
Stateside, our Humane Society of the United States wildlife team works in a variety of situations to mitigate livestock conflicts with deer, bears, bobcats, mountain lions, wolves and coyotes. Human-wildlife conflict mitigation is also a major priority for our Humane Society International teams globally. Using a mix of education, research and practical prevention methods, we work toward reducing such conflicts and teaching people how to live alongside animals in harmony.
- In India, a deathly fear of snakes has led to hundreds of snakes being killed each day. Snakebites are a serious problem, with a reported one million bites and a staggering 50,000 human deaths annually. People often kill snakes on sight. To address the problem, our HSI/India team, in partnership with The Gerry Martin Project (TGMP), has advanced a mix of initiatives that combine prevention with education and coexistence. We conduct education and awareness programs for children so they can identify venomous snakes, and distribute solar lanterns because most snakebites occur when people step out of their homes in the dark. We also educate residents in methods for keeping snakes away from homes, proper responses when they see a snake, and first-aid for snakebite. Finally, the TGMP and HSI/India collaboration is training doctors in snakebite treatment, and carrying out a first-of-its kind radio telemetry study on the Russell’s Viper, the species responsible for the most bites and deaths, to collect data on its behavior and habitat, in the interests of developing better prevention strategies.
- In Vietnam, where only about 100 wild elephants remain, conflicts with villagers arise when the animals raid crops and cause property damage. HSI is partnering with the Vietnam Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, local enforcement authorities, and international human-elephant conflict experts to find humane ways to mitigate conflict and to promote coexistence between humans and elephants.
- In Romania, home to about 6,000 brown bears, we are gearing up to implement community-based human-bear conflict mitigation projects. Last fall, HSI organized a stakeholder workshop in Montana—home to the similar grizzly bear—to which we invited various Romanian stakeholders to see how nonlethal mitigation solutions, including simple steps like a well-maintained electrical fence, bear-proof waste receptacles, and other education and awareness-raising activities can be effective solutions to human-bear conflict. We hope to expand the projects on the ground in Romania to promote peaceful coexistence rather than the killing of bears.
- In South Africa, we have worked to pioneer the use of immunocontraception for elephants – a humane solution for controlling the growth of populations, frequently necessary within the confines of fenced reserves. This innovative technology, which spares the lives of hundreds of elephants each year and keeps their numbers from rising too fast, helps to reduce breakouts from the reserves and encounters with people.
- In Australia, many thousands of dingoes are killed indiscriminately each year over livestock conflicts, by government-sponsored poison baiting programs, bounty incentives, or the use of steel-jawed traps coated with strychnine. The team from HSI/Australia, an associated organization, has worked hard to change the perception of dingoes as “wild dogs” – a term coined by livestock industry interests — and has championed non-lethal management options to guide sheep and cattle farmers, including guardian animals, stock management, fladry and fox lights.
With more and more wildlife species under threat because of climate change, human population expansion and other man-made challenges, and with governments frequently falling short in the implementation of solutions, it falls upon us – those who love animals and speak out for them – to find answers that are constructive, effective and, above all, humane. The challenges are many, but our teams around the globe and our teams stateside are well-equipped to take on these difficult fights.