The Luc Hoffmann Institute brings together diverse thinkers to develop a standard for human-wildlife coexistence

As the human population grows and environmental issues such as climate change and habitat degradation escalate, negative interactions between wildlife and people are predicted to increase in both frequency and intensity. This in turn leads to conflicts between groups of people with different interests, values and power. Who makes the decisions about interactions between wild animals and people? Who writes the rules, and who implements them? Who mediates and what is ‘good’ governance in these circumstances? 

On 11 February 2021, the Luc Hoffmann Institute and Griffith University convened a group of 33 individuals, including conservationists, researchers, human rights specialists, foundations and development banks, and representatives from community groups, for a three-hour spirited and progressive discussion to begin developing a task force and sowing the seeds of funding for a new standard for human-wildlife coexistence.

The convening was a culmination of work that the Luc Hoffmann Institute and Griffith University have undertaken since 2018 to strengthen the management of human-wildlife conflict (HWC) and achieve more sustainable coexistence between wildlife and people. In 2020, the Luc Hoffmann Institute published  ‘The State of Knowledge and Practice on Human Wildlife Conflicts’, pointing the way to developing a standard to guide and improve approaches to HWC globally.

Introducing the convening, Jon Hutton, formerly Director of the Luc Hoffmann Institute and recently appointed Executive Director, WWF Global Conservation Impact, remarked on the importance of addressing human-wildlife conflicts: “Conservationists are incredibly resourceful and full of ideas. We’ve all been innovative, but our energy and tools are useless unless we ensure conflicts are mediated by professionals who are trained to do so. I would be reluctant as a donor to fund any initiative that doesn’t have guidelines, including for human rights and dignity.”

Addressing the need for a standard, Duan Biggs emphasised that human-wildlife conflict is, at heart, conflict between people, but the skills to facilitate and mediate such conflict is often very limited within conservation.

What would a standard for human-wildlife coexistence look like?

Participants heard from a panel of speakers that included Alexandra Zimmermann of the IUCN SSC Human-Wildlife Conflict Task Force, who spoke about the development of existing guidelines and how these can and should be linked with a new standard. 

Brisetha Hendricks from Ûibasen Twyfelfontein Conservancy offered a Namibian community perspective on why current strategies for managing human-wildlife conflict are insufficient, emphasising that human-wildlife conflict is not new but that situations have worsened for communities as a direct result of tourism downturns due to the pandemic. Isla Hodgson, conservation social scientist from the University of Stirling, gave an overview of standards in conservation and explained the need for a standard to be tailored for local contexts.

Researchers then presented findings from research conducted for two reports in conjunction with the event. Nigel Dudley and Sue Stolton of Equilibrium Research spoke on the value addition of a standard for human wildlife coexistence to existing guidelines and standards, and Harry Jonas of Future Law discussed human rights, responsibilities and relationships in developing a standard.

Illustration by Robert Laszlo Kiss

Panelist talks were followed by lively Q&A sessions, breakout discussions and a ‘fishbowl’ roundtable session in which participants offered their insights and thoughts. The session was introduced by brief talks from:

  • Thierry Lefebvre – IUCN WCPA Green List
  • Khalid Pasha – CA|TS Manager, WWF Tigers Alive Initiative
  • Nyambe Nyambe – Executive Director, KAZA TFCA Secretariat 
  • Jacques van Rooyen – Conservation International 
  • Sybille Klenzendorf – Director, Wildlife Science and Monitoring, WWF Germany

By the end of the event, there was consensus about the potential usefulness of a global standard for human-wildlife coexistence, as discussions moved toward what that standard could and should look like.

Where next? 

Duan Biggs and Griffith University invite interested stakeholders to form a task force that will design and drive forward a new standard for human-wildlife coexistence. If you would like to be part of the task force, contribute your ideas or want to be involved in funding the important work of achieving resilient human-wildlife coexistence, please contact Duan Biggs at d.biggs@griffith.edu.au.