Compassionate coexistence. It’s such a simple and worthy goal, yet it’s one of the areas in which the human aspiration to do right by wildlife still falls well short of what animals deserve. That’s why building global capacity and commitment for humane and effective approaches to resolving human-wildlife conflict is a strategic priority for the Humane Society family of organizations, and part of our vision for a deeper sense of community with wildlife around the world.
So many of us enjoy seeing and learning about wildlife, whether outside in person or through television and other media. Unexpected, moving, sometimes frightening videos of encounters with wild animals seem to go viral weekly, attesting to our fascination. Yet in far too many instances of human interaction with wildlife, in both urban and rural settings, the encounters don’t end well for the animals.
Each year, millions of wild animals around the world are killed, for straying into human habitations and communities, looking for food or places to shelter and for simply seeking to survive in zones of human activity, like our western range lands and other inviting habitat—including our own backyards and neighborhoods.
We believe that this killing is avoidable, and in recent years we’ve been putting more effort and resources into changing public attitudes and behavior, seeking to displace lethal control methods with humane techniques. This includes our continuing field studies involving the use of non-lethal methods and long-term fertility control to resolve wildlife conflicts, our public education and training work designed to educate local decision-makers and agents charged with responding to wildlife issues. It also includes our crucial public policy advocacy aimed at advancing humane methods.
And we’re gaining ground, as these highlights from 2020 demonstrate:
- In the U.S. Congress, we successfully campaigned for a budget increase of more than $14 million for non-lethal management of wild horses and burros using PZP, the humane fertility control vaccine we have championed.
- In New York, we continued our long-term field projects to validate use of PZP as a practical, humane and effective population management tool for deer in urban communities. This year brought us to near completion of a collaborative study with the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University on white-tailed deer contraception and its impact in New York’s Village of Hastings-on-Hudson.
- In northern Arizona, we completed another year of our ongoing collaborative field study with the Bureau of Land Management in the Black Mountain Herd Management Area to evaluate the feasibility and logistics of humane fertility control in the management of wild burro populations on a larger scale.
- We expanded our engagement with animal care and control professionals and other agents responsible for solving problems with deer, coyotes, prairie dogs and Canada geese across the United States. In collaboration with the National Animal Control Association and the Justice Clearinghouse, we presented 11 live training webinars for more than 1,310 professionals representing 384 agencies on how to encourage coexistence with urban wildlife using non-lethal methods.
- We persuaded 76 animal care and control and law enforcement agencies to sign our Wild Neighbors pledge, committing to the adoption of non-lethal, humane approaches to resolving conflicts with wildlife. Altogether, 295 agencies have committed to using humane policies for addressing and responding to wildlife conflicts.
- We worked with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon State Police on their agencies’ wildlife response strategies, holding a first-of-its-kind collaborative training event. We also worked to steer ODFW towards better approaches to bear issues in the Wild & Scenic Rogue River in Southern Oregon, heading off a July 2020 ODFW proposal for a bear hunt.
- In partnership with City of Atlantic Beach, Florida, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, we successfully secured adoption of the city’s Coyote Management and Education Plan.
- In 2020, as a direct result of our field projects, we saved 541 prairie dogs, training public agency staff members and independent wildlife technicians on how to translocate and address conflicts with prairie dogs. Our conflict resolution work focusing on prairie dogs reached 20,000 people in eight western communities.
Our human-wildlife conflict resolution work is also thriving outside of the United States:
- HSI/Africa added seven new reserves and 131 new adult breeding-age female African elephants to its elephant immunocontraception initiative in South Africa, bringing the total number of South Africa reserves to 39 and breeding females under treatment to 1,145. HSI/Africa also supported the use of non-lethal solutions to address elephant conflict with people who live on the periphery of Ithala Game Reserve in South Africa.
- Following a new import mandate under U.S. law, for which we had campaigned, Scotland prohibited the shooting of seals for the benefit of fisheries and fish farms.
- HSI/India worked with The Liana Trust to help agricultural communities strengthen their capacity to live in harmony with snakes—both venomous and non-venomous—in rural landscapes. Our work in India focuses on the Russell’s viper, the species responsible for the most snake bites there.
The world we’re trying to create is one in which the interests and needs of all animals, including wildlife, are taken more seriously into account. Changing thought and practice among the responsible decision-makers, agents and residents in the communities we engage takes time, trust and tenacity, but the benefit in terms of animals saved and spared from suffering and worse creates the greatest of incentives. That’s why we’ll do even more to promote our vision and our approach in 2021, and that’s why we hope to have your continued support and engagement in the New Year.