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Living with Wildlife: Competing for Survival

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

In just over a week, you’ll have the opportunity to double a donation to David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) through Big Give! With global match-funding campaigns, Big Give enables everyday donations to make an extraordinary difference to the world’s most significant challenges.

At DSWF, we’re aiming to raise £20,000 through our campaign Living with Wildlife: Competing for Survival. But thanks to Big Give, that could become £40,000 that will go directly towards supporting our projects and conservation partners on the frontline.

Image credit: Andrew White, Game Rangers International

We know that spending time in nature is good for us. It can often give us a greater appreciation for our wild neighbours, and how threatened and vulnerable they are. But we would likely feel differently if our lives or livelihoods were threatened by such proximity to wildlife. When this happens, it is known as human-wildlife conflict. Resolving human-wildlife conflict has long been a core part of our work, and it is also the focus of our Big Give campaign.

With nearly eight billion people populating the planet, it’s no surprise that other species are finding their own living space encroached upon. Forced to retreat to isolated pockets of disappearing habitat, some animals have no choice but to share their world and available resources with humans.

Inevitably, this is not a harmonious adaptation. Animals are naturally driven to defend their territory, their families, and food and water resources. In turn, it is understandable for us to want to protect our crops, where we live, our income and our lives, when we come into conflict with wildlife.

DSWF is working with conservation partners on the frontline to provide real world solutions that turn human-wildlife conflict into human-wildlife co-existence. We seek out ways to encourage acceptance and tolerance of living side by side with wildlife whilst providing a benefit to both.

Image credit: Game Rangers International

In these situations, some of the biggest threats these species face are pre-emptive and retaliatory killings. For instance, farmers want to protect livestock and crops from predators and raiding herbivores respectively and might only know how to do so violently. Or, as settlements infringe on areas of wilderness – rodents, dogs, and even people may fall victim to predators on the outskirts, especially if deprived of more natural prey.

The issue is complex and won’t naturally be resolved, even where there is no obvious conflict, until one species is forced to retreat or no longer exists. This is a fight for hearts and minds, as much as it is for more physical solutions. The initiatives we fund, and support, are committed to limiting and reducing conflict occurrences and empowering impacted communities to cope when it does. For co-existence to be a reality, we need to instill positive attitudes and mindsets, and ensure alternative income and livelihood solutions are diverted from competing recourses – enabling a readiness to deal and cope with conflict when it occurs.

Education plays a huge part in changing negative perspectives in those impacted by human-wildlife conflict. DSWF provides support in delivering key education programmes, in both Asia and Africa. In the last six months alone, DSWF has engaged over 3,000 children in Russia, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Guinea. From bush camps to conservation clubs, we’re instilling a new understanding of how we can co-exist with wildlife in the next generation.

We’re also working with herder communities in Mongolia, empowering shepherdesses there to proactively protect their flocks from snow leopard predation, whilst also leading a pioneering livestock insurance scheme to help them recover from losses.

Image credit: Snow Leopard Trust

By exposing the vulnerabilities of ecosystems and proving how reserves and conservation areas restore and protect biodiversity for everyone’s benefit, even improving soil quality, we’re reducing the impact of illegal wildlife offtake and crime in countries like Nigeria.

However, it is in India and across Asia where our human-wildlife conflict work has some of the greatest impact. In critical wildlife corridors like Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, elephants are attracted to the high value crops of coconut, areca nut, banana, and cardamon. With natural resources under strain, and their own space encroached upon by humans, settlements, and agriculture, this is less out of temptation but rather necessity. Elephants are also smart enough to know the risks – approaching humans is dangerous. These crops often represent not just a year’s salary – but a lifetime’s worth of savings and investment, across generations. To lose them is a loss so devastating, it’s hard for us to comprehend. And a herd of determined elephants can wipe them out overnight. It is understandable that farmers will do anything to protect such precious livelihoods. As a result, more and more human-elephant encounters end in hostile aggression and tragedy on both sides.

Image credit: Wildlife Trust of India

In the last decade, over 800 elephants and nearly 700 people have died because of human-wildlife conflict in just a single Indian state – Udalguri, Assam. These figures included a couple and their child, under two years of age, with a severe and distressing impact on the community. As an area that DSWF projects are highly active in, the rangers we fund, and support, are more than wildlife officials. They become first responders. It is not uncommon for rangers to feel the brunt of frustration from local communities. Patrols arrive on scene, only to be told something needs to be done about ‘their’ animals. Often, the first casualty in human-wildlife conflict is a sense of connection with such species, once wild neighbours – but now a pest, nuisance, or even killers.

Image credit: Wildlife Trust of India

DSWF provide rangers with vital funding and equipment, enabling regular patrols that both monitor animals and discourage human encroachment into the forest. We’ve also provided the contacts and support for an effective strategy to be devised and implemented.

With our support and funding, our frontline conservation partners have been able to positively address multiple incidents of human-elephant conflict in the last six months This included a major operation to successfully divert a herd of 80 elephants away from a tea farm. Furthermore, last October, an elephant calf was found trapped in another tea estate, and DSWF-funded teams were able to rescue and reunite it with the mother. DSWF is also supporting rangers in Assam’s Nunai Range of the eastern Himalayas.

We would like to thank the Reed Foundation for championing DSWF’s vital work in mitigating human-wildlife conflict through Big Give’s Green Match Fund 2023.

Every donation received between April 20th and April 27th will qualify for match-funding, doubling your impact without lifting a finger. We really can’t do it without you. Help us to reach our target by donating through Big Give here.

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