Rethinking wildlife management : Living with wild animals

Boonman-Berson, Susan


Worldwide conflicts between humans and wild animals continue to increase. These conflicts are inherently complex and wildlife management faces many difficulties in attempting to anticipate and control them. Managing such conflicts involves the use of and reliance on spaces, data, and categories in deciding which wildlife management strategies to implement. However, these factors are not self-evident and therefore often highly contested. The employed wildlife management strategies are typically based on rigid spaces, data and categories and are focused on controlling wild animals and separating them from humans.

Cohabitation between humans and wild animals is discussed as a suggested alternative to intense control of wild animals. Its focus is on a dynamic approach to spaces, data and categories, which has the potential to generate cohabitation strategies that require the use of flexible and dynamic boundaries. This dynamic approach embraces an inclusive process that shifts focus from either humans or wild animals to a process that focusses on the interactions between them and the landscape where these interactions take place. The emphasis is on the ‘co’ in co-habitation, reflecting the mutuality involved in these interactions, including mutual adjustments and mutual learning by both humans and wild animals. This research seeks to advance insight into wildlife management practices that are confronted by human-wildlife conflicts and explores ways in which cohabitation might be achieved. The research consists of a literature study regarding the construction of invasiveness in science, policy and wildlife management, as well as two case studies: black bear management on the Colorado Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, USA and wild boar management at the Veluwe, the Netherlands. Because of the emphasis on human-wild animal interactions, this research employs a multispecies-ethnography in the two cases.

This research concludes that wildlife management based on the use of and reliance on fixed and pre-determined spaces, data and categories is, observed to be at odds with the dynamic and contingent character of human-wildlife interactions in practice. A reconceptualization of wildlife management in which the processes and relations between humans, wild animals, and the landscapes where they roam is emphasized is therefore required. This will in turn result in a redefinition of the respective spaces, data and categories employed when making management decisions. Such a dynamic understanding contributes to furthering the understanding and pursuit of cohabitation between humans and wild animals. Indeed, the interactions between humans, wild animals and landscapes are key to the five cohabitation strategies identified in the two cases. To promote the achievement of cohabitation, this research has generated four important insights concerning: mutuality between humans and wild animals; processes of affective learning between humans and wild animals; differences between humans and wild animals; and mindedness of individuals and collectives. A dynamic approach to wildlife management, such as the multinatural approach described in this thesis, is based on insights like these. Wildlife management endeavoring to attain cohabitation between humans and wild animals will need to shift its perspective from ‘acting upon’ – prevalent in western wildlife management practices – to ‘acting with’ wild animals. The research ends with suggesting three moves towards cohabitation, methodological reflections on the employed interpretive multispecies research approach, and the research’s contribution to highlight the ‘voices’ of wild animals.