Can climate change have adverse impact on human- animal conflict? A new study from Japan points out that as natural areas become increasingly fragmented, the potential for humans and wildlife to interact is growing.
In the study published in Science of the Total Environment, researchers from the Institute of Industrial Science, The University of Tokyo, looked into how the risk of human-elephant conflict could change over time. When humans encroach on natural landscapes, the chances of interactions with wildlife increase. Conflicts can arise when wildlife damages livestock or crops, or when human activities damage animal habitat. For example, forest edges are particularly attractive areas for elephants on the hunt for food, which can bring them into contact with mature crops, or with farmers, they said.
Lead author Nuntikom Kitratpom pointed out that half of Thailand’s population live in rural areas and rely on agriculture and the country has about three to four thousand wild elephants. Deforestation and the growth of commercial agriculture have pushed elephants into increasingly fragmented patches of habitat, increasing the chance of interactions between humans and elephants, the author added.
The authors noted that climate change brought additional complexity to these interactions, as changing environmental conditions led to changes in the behaviour and distribution of elephants. They also warned that human-elephant conflict may well intensify in the future in rural areas where people depend on agriculture to survive.
The researchers used a risk framework that incorporated different possible scenarios. They used this framework to examine the recent spatial distribution of human-elephant conflict (2000–2019) in Thailand and how it may look in the near future (2024–2044). They also incorporated different projections of future climate and socio-economic conditions into the framework and the effects on land use were examined.
“We found a spatial shift in risk toward northern areas and higher latitudes,” says Nuntikom Kitratporn. “In other areas, habitat is likely to become less suitable over time, which could first increase and gradually decrease the risk of interactions.”
The results from this study could be used to develop planning strategies in affected communities and raise awareness of ways in which humans and wildlife can coexist).