Does trust play an important role in large carnivore conservation?

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Large carnivore populations are declining rapidly worldwide, in fact many species of wolves, lions, tigers and bears are endangered or facing extinction. Much of the decline is because of the ever-increasing human populations expanding into wildlife territories and increased interactions and conflict between humans and these animals. There has been a growing concern about large carnivore survival. Findings suggest that much of the decline is due not only to human-carnivore conflict, but a notable increase in human-human conflict regarding carnivore conservation, and this has prompted closer examination of the root causes.

In human-carnivore conflict, there are two prevailing groups of people. The first group feels that all wildlife must be protected from people. This group consists mostly of citizens residing in urban areas. The second group believes it is the people that must be protected against wildlife. This group consists of mostly rural citizens; ranchers, farmers and hunters. Conflict can become heated and cause long-standing issues even between neighbours if they have differing views on how carnivores should be managed.

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 There are multiple issues contributing to the conflict however there is one noteworthy issue which stems from the lack of trust some people have for large carnivore researchers. When new research is shared with certain groups such as hunters, farmers and ranchers, it is often received with a good deal of skepticism. Studies show that there is a ~25% probability that scientific research about large carnivores will be met with skepticism and distrust and that it will also be perceived as manipulative. Given the fact that most people who do not trust the research also reside where these carnivores live, this is disturbing. One study in Norway shows that people living in areas where large carnivores reside are less likely to trust the research they learn about and more likely to rely on local knowledge. A larger percentage of these people have had negative experiences with large carnivores stemming from predation of livestock. The study also found there to be a worldwide decline in trust over the last decade and this can have a significant impact on success of carnivore conservation programs. When lack of trust towards science research is coupled with other factors such as societal “fake news” trends, the gap between stakeholders widens.

Photo by Waldemar Brandt on

Without trust in large carnivore researchers and trust in the government that set the related policies, people will be less likely to abide by the legislation set out to protect the large carnivores which will hinder carnivore recovery efforts and will also create more strife between stakeholder groups having differing values. So yes, trust in the large carnivore researchers is very important. Moving forward, I think concerted efforts must be made to build that trust.

Questions: Are you interested in large carnivore conservation? And if so, do you trust the research you have seen so far? Why or why not? I would really love to hear from you in the comments section.

Cheers, Lynn

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