Can farmers & conservationists agree on managing the lion & the lamb?

Reposted from my article in Africa Geographic

Have you ever found it hard to agree on what TV show to watch with your dearly beloved?  How about reaching consensus with your colleagues on how best to manage a project?  Conflicts are an everyday occurrence at home and work, sometimes leading to very heated arguments.  However, when each party holds polar opposite views on life, how on earth are they expected to find common ground?

Arguably one of the deepest and most entrenched environmental conflicts persisting is that between carnivore conservationists and livestock farmers.  One party is trying to save the species that threatens the livelihood of the other.  In a gruesome demonstration aimed at showing anger towards the government conservationists for supposedly putting carnivores before people, Swedish Saami reindeer herders dumping dead reindeer in a Stockholm public square.  American livestock ranchers have compared wolves to terrorists and Maasai communities have poached lions in retaliation to conservationists not paying enough compensation for predated livestock.

Who would’ve thought that these apparent arch enemies - livestock farmers and wildlife conservationists - could agree on how to manage predators on farmlands?  But that’s exactly what they did in a recent Namibian study that I published in the journal Oryx.

I developed a new consensus-building technique that combined the Delphi technique (utilised by Americans to try to decide on how to solve the cold war crisis) with Q-methodology (first used to understand the subjective feelings about death from terminally-ill patients).  This bizarre mix of methods allowed me to reduce tension between the warring decision-makers by allowing anonymous online participation.

Through three rounds of questioning, these presumed opponents came to an agreement on what they should do about carnivores on farmland: educate farmers on predator ecology and teach herders how to protect livestock from attack.  Surprisingly, farmers and conservationists also agreed on how they didn’t want to resolve this problem: by killing predators that entered the farm.  There was also an unanticipated degree of tolerance held by the farmers towards carnivores, as many ranchers preferred non-lethal methods to control these animals.

These results are very promising for carnivore conservation as they show that common ground could be found between these two supposed rivals.  We can work together to solve this complex problem using these suggested methods, which will not only benefit carnivores, but livestock and people too.


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