Monday, 29 May 2017

Quit nature to save wolves and bears? There are better ways

Wild predators bounce back as nations modernise, people shift to cities and attitudes change. But we don't have to seal ourselves off to save them, says Niki Rust

By Niki Rust

Imagine waking up, opening your curtains and seeing a pack of wolves on your patio. How would you feel knowing that these large carnivores had invaded your territory and were just metres away? Both fearful and fascinated, probably.

For livestock farmers, fear wins the day – we often dislike things that could harm us, our loved ones or our property. But this is bad news for wildlife: retaliatory and pre-emptive killing of large carnivores is one of their biggest threats and a cause of decline in many places.

However, across much of Europe and North America, populations of wolves, bears, cougars and lynxes are increasing. It looks like fascination has won out. How come?

A new US study offers an answer. It says that modernisation, traditionally seen as destructive to habitats and their wild species, could be behind this.

Dual trend
The explanation is in two parts. First, as nations advance, livelihoods have shifted from agriculture to cities – a trend gathering pace in many parts of the world – and more and more of us are physically separated from the countryside. This means that we come into less contact and conflict with large carnivores, so we’re less likely to kill them.

Second, and less obvious, is that this separation is mental too. Attitudes towards predators change – we begin to fear or despise them less, which in turn increases our desire to protect them. Wildlife management policies then begin to shift away from paying to eradicate “pests” towards spending millions on conserving habitats and species. Increasing wealth and better education are part of that, refocusing our societal values with regard to the welfare and use of wildlife, suggests the study.

This idea bolsters a new wave of environmental thinking known as ecomodernism, which argues that technological solutions such as highly mechanised farming, along with circular economies and a retreat to cities, are our best hope for protecting the planet. The belief is that these factors enable us to reduce the per-capita human footprint and hand more space back to wildlife.

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