Attacks on humans by carnivorous animals have steadily increased since 1950, as growing human populations in new areas make such incidents more common, according to a study published last week. According to other experts, climate change may also contribute to greater conflict between humans and animals.
The report, which includes 33 contributors, was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Biology. For 70 years, the collected attack incidents were compiled from personal datasets, published literature and news reports.
A contributor to the report, Vincenzo Penteriani, an ecologist with Spain’s National Research Council, said the rising population has led to greater human encroachment on natural habitats — a likely cause for the alleged increase in attacks by wolves, bears and big cats across the country. worldwide. world.
Penteriani said that while the overall number of carnivore attacks has increased, such incidents are still relatively rare. The report found that Asia and Africa experienced the strongest increases.
“If you combine the reduction in natural habitat with the expansion and spread of human settlements, it’s almost normal for the encounters between large carnivores and humans to become more frequent,” Penteriani said. “It’s just a matter of probability.”
Climate change bringing wildlife closer to humans could be another aggravating factor in human-animal conflict, said Briana Abrahms, an assistant professor and wildlife ecologist at the University of Washington who did not work on the study.
Most carnivore attacks in high-income countries occurred during recreational activities such as hiking or camping. In low-income countries, carnivore attacks were more common in people engaged in subsistence activities such as hunting or farming. According to the study, 32% of all attacks worldwide were fatal.
Abrahms said it’s important to recognize all the variables that affect human-animal interactions and that climate change is often missing from the discourse.
“We’re seeing the long-term effects, like the reduction in sea ice in the Arctic, leading to more encounters between polar bears and humans,” Abrahms said. “But we also see the more direct impact of extreme climate events. The increasing frequency and severity of these events can lead to conflict – in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the frequency of extreme droughts has been linked to increased attacks by carnivores on livestock.”
Last month, killed a polar bear a 24-year-old woman and her 1-year-old child in the small village of Wales, Alaska. It was the first fatal attack by a polar bear in Alaska in more than 30 years. Polar bears are spending more and more time on land, Abrahms said, while their hunting grounds on the ice are shrinking.
Penteriani said: “It is difficult to predict the full impact of climate change on carnivores. But if the polar bears cannot return to their habitat at the end of the summer due to a lack of ice, they will have to stay closer to humans for a longer period of time. This automatically increases the chance of more attacks.”
Wildlife behavior may be more closely linked to human activity than previously recognized. A recent study found significant differences in land use and behavior between different species in Montana’s Glacier National Park during and after the Covid shutdown.
Researchers found that hikers created a “landscape of fear” for cougars, wolves, black bears, grizzly bears and smaller mammals. When the parks were empty, the animals roamed freely. When walkers returned, several species made less use of trails or disappeared altogether.
In general, wild animals try to avoid contact with humans, said a study co-author, Daniel Thornton, an assistant professor at Washington State University who studies carnivore ecology and conservation.
“If animals are forced close together, if there isn’t enough habitat, or if there are climate-driven changes that are driving animals and humans together, then conflict is more likely,” Thornton said.
Urban ecologist Christopher Schell studies how animals and humans adapt to increased proximity in urban environments. His lab at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is an assistant professor, is home to research on human-coyote interactions in the city.
With increasing global urbanization and human encroachment, it’s inevitable that human-animal interactions will increase, Schell said. But those interactions don’t have to be negative, he added.
“Something to consider are the relationships that already exist between humans and the species in question,” he said.
Schell sees Carl the Coyote’s urban story as a perfect representation of humans’ changing relationship with urban carnivores. Carl was the beloved mascot of the San Francisco Bay Area, Schell said. He was nurtured and enamored with the local unhoused population, but eventually became too accustomed to humans – after authorities deemed Carl a threat, particularly to local children, he was shot in 2021inspiring for a citywide vigil.
“There are many species that will become urbanized, that are now urbanized,” Schell said. “We know that wildlife is likely to interact with humans more frequently, and we need to be prepared for that. How do we create spaces where both wildlife and humans can coexist?”