Human population growth and increasing numbers of estuarine crocodiles and wolves in Australia and Norway, is setting us up for an increase in human wildlife conflicts. Proper models for management and conflict mediation, is key to hinder undesirable encounters between man and predator in the field of wildlife conservation. How does the existing and potential conflict areas, and the current management practices in two first world countries stack up towards each other. And how are we dealing with growing populations of two apex predators, the grey wolf (Canis lupus) in Norway and the estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) in Australia.
During the 19th and 20th century many of the world’s large animals experienced a sharp decline. This was due to a high degree of hunting and other anthropogenic pressures such as habitat encroachment (Laurance et al., 2014). Predators were no exception and were often regarded as either highly valued game or simple vermin to hunters. Either way, they were often shot on sight (Peter Andrew Lindsey et al., 2012; Pooley, 1973).
But with the rise of environmentalism in the 1970s, the protection of many of these species began finding their way into national and international legislation.
The grey wolf (Canis lupus) and the estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) are two of the most feared and revered living predators. Both of which have had a population growth after they were nationally protected in Norway and Australia respectively in the 1970s (Andersen R, 2003; Y. Fukuda et al., 2014). Both species live within countries which are regarded as high income developed countries by The World Bank (A. The World Bank, 2017; N. The World bank, 2017). With increasing populations of both humans and large predators and with overlapping habitats we are seeing an increase in interactions and conflicts between the two groups.
Wolf wolf and a whole lot of Croc
Returning for red riding hood
Since the wolves’ return to Norway after their protection in 1971, the population has grown from a few wandering young individuals to a population just short of a hundred animals (Rovdata, 2017). With rising number of wolves, the conflict levels have both risen between humans and wolves, and within the human population in Norway. A conflict between humans over reestablishment of wolves in Norway has, taken on political and social form. The wolf has become a battle ground for politicians to gather electoral votes as well as a rallying cause for different social groups who either want wolves to re-establish or to be extirpated from Norway (Bjerke et al., 1998; Skogen et al., 2013).
Though being a large carnivorous animal, the wolf in Norway has not been known to kill humans in modern times. The last incident of a human death caused by a wolf was in the year 1800 when a young girl lost her life in a wolf attack in Akershus county (Linnell et al., 2002; Unsgård & Vigerstøl, 1998). Not to say the wolf is not a dangerous animal. The wolf is an effective pack hunter which can cause considerable damage to populations of moose and deer, and to livestock such as sheep. To a landowner living of selling hunting rights, or a small scale farmer, losing parts of their moose population or sheep flock may cause significant damage to their income(Kaltenborn et al., 1999; Skogen et al., 2013).
The conflict between wolf and man may not however be based solely on the wolf being a potentially dangerous animal. What the wolf symbolizes might contribute to the ongoing conflict more than the actual danger of human harm (Figari & Skogen, 2011).
Skogen and Figari found in their sociological study of four towns in Norway, which live with wolves, is that despite many not wanting wolves in their immediate area, even sceptics declare that they see the wolf as a majestic creature and that they respect its hunting skills and intellect (Bjerke et al., 1998; Figari et al., 2011; Kaltenborn et al., 1999). Skogen and Figari also claimed that the timing of the wolves return to Norway in the 1970’s was in the midst of a form of social shift as urban living was becoming the predominantly modern way of living and the traditional rural lifestyle was increasingly seen as backwards (Skogen et al., 2013). The sceptic’s dispute is therefore not really with the wolf itself, but rather the predator management practices. They feel like the government and the managers do not respect the local peoples voice, and that decisions are being made only to accommodate the wolf and the “city people” and not the people living with it (Figari et al., 2011). The anger and frustration has become directed towards the wolf which became a symbol of the dichotomy of the rural population versus urban elitist societies.
Age, educational level, income, level of rurality during upbringing, and the level of scepticism to wolves have been shown to be correlated. People of older age (usually around 50<), lower education and income, and rural upbringing have been shown to be more sceptical towards wolves and in support of extermination, while younger, urban people with higher level of education and income are much more often supporters of wolf reestablishment (Bjerke et al., 1998; Figari et al., 2011; Kaltenborn et al., 1999; Roskaft et al., 2007).
Captain Hook better watch his back
The estuarine crocodile is one of the largest living predators with some males reaching more than six meters and exceeding 1000kg. They are also regarded as one of the more aggressive crocodilian species and have a reputation for being man-eaters (Y. Fukuda et al., 2015; Grigg & Kirshner, 2015, p. 10).
A quick search on the official crocodile attack database CrocBITE, using the parameters (Location: Australia, Period: 2000-present, Species: Crocodylus porosus.) returned with results showing that there has been as many as 78 reports of people being attacked by crocodiles between the year 2000 and present day. Of these incidents 21 attacks ended fatally (“CrocBITE,” 2017).
Even though crocodiles do kill and feed on humans, there have been very few sociological and anthropological studies into people’s perception towards crocodiles in their surroundings compared with the amount of studies following reestablishment of wolves in Norway. Surveys conducted with 204 individuals from the general public in the city of Brisbane, questioned the participants about their general feeling of likability toward a selection of Australian wildlife. Estuarine crocodiles ranked second to last, with the world’s most venomous snake, the taipan, ranked dead last. Their analysis showed that even though reptiles were generally disliked people were willing to split a hypothetical sum of money almost 50%-50% when faced with the decision to allocate funds to the conservation of mammals vs. reptiles or birds vs. reptiles (Clem Tisdell et al., 2005). This was done before and after the participants were educated on the ecology and range of the animals. The added knowledge made the participants dislike estuarine crocodiles even more than before, but did not have an effect on their opinion on whether crocodiles should be conserved or not (CA Tisdell, 2004; Clem Tisdell et al., 2005). Even though the estuarine crocodiles were ranked second to last on the likability index developed by Tisdell et. al 2005, the participants of the survey claimed that even if they disliked the reptile “it has a right to exist”, giving the disliked animal an intrinsic and moral value (Clem Tisdell et al., 2005).
Lately there has been an up-spike in news stories regarding a push for culling of crocodiles in Queensland after a wave of high profile crocodile attacks[i]. Politics is also being coloured by these recent incidents with politicians opting for a culling of large crocodiles and municipalities revising their management plans (Party, 2017; State Government Media Release, 2017). Despite peoples’ apparent dislike for crocodiles it has so far been accepted as a part of the ecosystem in the northern parts of Australia, but the tides may be shifting.
Conflicts and the human solution
The wolf debate
In Norway, the conflicts have largely been driven by the separation between urban and rural communities. With farmers and hunters as the main drivers for extirpation of wolves from Norway. Some common explanations are that the wolves do not belong in the Norwegian wilderness anymore, and that wolves have been moving, or been moved, in from Finland and Russia, hence not belonging to the Norwegian fauna (Figari et al., 2011; Krange & Skogen, 2011; Skogen et al., 2013). On the other side of the conflict there are the urban dwellers whom see the wolf as something belonging to the wild. An animal with a purpose, which is not a threat to humans. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle.
Because wolves do kill livestock, wild game animals and hunting dogs on a regular basis, the public conflict usually revolves around these issues. A quick search on the Norwegian Environment Agency’s (NEA) database Rovbase shows that between 01.january.2015 and 05.april.2017 there has been 863 livestock wounded or killed by wolves, mainly in south eastern Norway (Rovbase). Within the same period 22 dogs have also lost their lives to wolves. When using the same search parameters for the other large predators in Norway; The brown bear (Ursus arctos), Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) and the wolverine (Gulo gulo), the results show that these animals kill more livestock individually, but no dogs have been recorded being killed by these predators.
Despite more livestock being lost to the other predators individually, the wolves take the brunt of the negative press. This has been associated with the untimely return of the wolves during a time of social conflict in Norway (Krange et al., 2011; Skogen et al., 2013). With rural populations stating that they feel like they have been neglected in the predator management debate, and that the urban elitists and politicians get the final say in the matter even though they do not have to live with the threat of wolves.
To mediate the conflict between humans and wolves, and between rural and urban communities, the Norwegian government has put in place a management program tackling the conflict from different angles.
Zoning and breeding goals: The wolf breeding zone is an area in the south-eastern parts Norway put aside for wolf conservation. This area was chosen due to the low production of livestock in this particular area, hence lower implications for livestock farmers and their livelihood (Government, 2016). Wolves residing within the wolf zone are protected by law and it is illegal to hunt this population except in cases where wolves showcase aggressive behaviour towards humans or causes exceptional damage to livestock, or if the population surpasses the national breeding goal (Lovdata). The national breeding goals are set by the NEA estimating the carrying capacity of the habitat and the expected litter production. If the yearly breeding goals for wolves are surpassed, the NEA may open for a restricted licence for population control (“Livestock and Predators “, 2015; Lovdata).
Livestock compensation: Livestock compensation is available in cases where there is proof or reasonable confidence that a predator has killed the livestock in question. In this case, the NEAs rangers are called to the site, to gather evidence and support for the claim, which is then reported to the county. If there is sufficient certainty that a predator has killed the livestock, the farmer can claim compensation from the county. In situations where there has been done significant damage to a flock, the county can request the NEA to issue an extraordinary hunting licence for that particular predator(s) on the grounds that there is belief that this animal will continue to cause harm to local livestock production, and/or quality of life for the people living in the affected area (“Livestock and Predators “, 2015; Skogen et al., 2013).
Education: To combat the gap in knowledge the NEA has established national predator centres. These are information centres and websites where the visitors can learn more about predators without an agenda. This way the visitor can increase their knowledge about predators and take an informed stance on the issue. In addition, the centres run predator schools for elementary school pupils. This is an offer to schools where children can either visit the centres with their class, or request a visit from a certified predator guide to learn more about the predators (Agency).
Regarding estuarine crocodiles the root of the conflict is that with an increase in the crocodile and human population, there is growing fear that more humans will lose their lives to the crocodiles’ jaws.
Crocodiles are a long lived slow growing species. At their protection in the 1970’s there was an estimated population of only 3000 non-juvenile crocodiles. Now, however, an estimated 75.000 – 100.000 non-juvenile crocodiles inhabit the northern parts of Australia where they are believed to be closing in on the carrying capacity of the ecosystem (Caldicott et al., 2005; Y. Fukuda et al., 2014; Yusuke Fukuda et al., 2011). We can assume that some of the original 3000 non- juvenile individuals have grown into adult specimens of significant size during this period and now stands as a potential danger to humans. The average chance of survival has been calculated to be about 81% if attacked by at 3m long crocodile, but this drops to about 17% if the animal is closer to 4m and less than 5% if the croc is longer than 4.5m (Y. Fukuda et al., 2015).
The increasing population growth of both humans and crocodiles in northern Australia is showing correlation with an increase in crocodile attacks (Y. Fukuda et al., 2014; Y. Fukuda et al., 2015). Britton and Sideleau reported that since the protection of crocodiles in the 1970’s the annual rate of crocodile attacks have increased from roughly 0.5 incidents to 3.8 incidents (Grigg et al., 2015, p. 614). Some of the attacks could also have gone unreported as the crocodiles are seen as an important totemic animal and character for the original landowners in Australia, the aboriginals and their Dreamtime creation myth (Caldicott et al., 2005; Zeppel & Muloin, 2008). As rural and indigenous societies often use waterways for daily tasks, such as water collection and laundry, the chance of a crocodile encounter is significantly higher among these populations. Older generation Aboriginals might have neglected to report attacks out of fear for what would happen to the crocodile (Aust et al., 2009; Y. Fukuda et al., 2014). Some of the low estimates in the 1970’s may be written off to less effective reporting, but more effective reporting cannot take full credit for the total increase in crocodile attacks
To mediate the human crocodile conflicts the Australian authorities have put in motion several management plans and community programs. The “Be Crocwise” initiative is a series of informational pamphlets, cartoons and other media outputs designed to teach people about crocodiles’ behaviour and how to stay safe in crocodile territory (DEHP, 2016; Y. Fukuda et al., 2014; Grigg et al., 2015, pp. 616-617).
Avoiding human crocodile conflicts from arising is the number one priority according to management authorities. The management teams work by keeping close watch on the size of the population, as well as the movement of crocodiles. Educating people living in close proximity to crocodiles about behaviour and the population inhabiting their area is a key strategy to hinder conflict (DEHP, 2016; Y. Fukuda et al., 2014; Grigg et al., 2015).
In cases where crocodiles do become nuisance the crocodiles are captured and relocated to crocodile farms for breeding stock in the crocodile farming industry. The reason why problematic estuarine crocodiles are not just relocated to isolated waterways is that they seem to have a strong homing instinct and keep returning to their original home range (Y. Fukuda et al., 2014).
The crocodile conflicts in Australia and the wolf conflicts in Norway share a set of similarities such as both are dealing with large and charismatic predators which may pose a hazard toward humans and their lifestyle, and that conflicts between humans and predators are on the rise.
Despite the similarities there are some factors that set the conflicts apart from each other. The Australian challenge is that their management plan needs to consider that crocodiles do kill humans whenever the two come into conflict. While Norwegian authorities’ development of management plans does not need to consider wolves killing people as a high-risk factor, they do, however, have to take into account the perceived danger and feeling of fear in parts of Norwegian societies. Norwegian management plans are created with social, economic and political factors in mind, rather than high risk of human lives being lost to wolves.
By not allowing organized crocodile culling, the Australian authorities are prioritizing the environment and the animals before human fears. The humans are taught how to think and behave in crocodile territories, rather than accommodate nature to humans. The animals are not relocated until they have become a real hazard to humans, and even then, they are likely not to be killed but brought to a crocodile farm for breeding. In Norway on the other hand the wolves are put under strict population control with a set amount of litters per year and a wolf area zoning system. This is putting the wolves under the control of Norwegian authorities and opens up the option of culling surplus or nuisance animals under the law of management of predators (Lovdata).
One factor that might be a divisive feature of crocodile- vs. wolf conflict and conservation is the financial aspect. Studies have shown that peoples acceptance of large animals, including predators, increase when there is a financial or otherwise beneficial incentive to keep them (Bulte & Damania, 2005; Peter Andrew Lindsey et al., 2012; P. A. Lindsey et al., 2013; Peter A Lindsey et al., 2007; Santiapillai & de Silva, 2001; Thorbjarnarson, 1999). After the legal protection, large scale farming of the estuarine crocodiles quickly became a booming industry (Caldicott et al., 2005; Y. Fukuda et al., 2014; Thorbjarnarson, 1999). To this day large scale production of crocodile meat and leather contributes to Australian economy and job market, which makes the animal more tolerable, even to the sceptics. The wolf on the other hand has no financial benefit for Norwegians as of today. At the moment, the wolf is costing the government and the taxpayer’s money through research, monitoring and livestock compensation. This in turn gives no financial incentive to the sceptics to want to keep the wolf. The supporters of the wolf on the other hand do not need these incentives as they are basing their decision on the intrinsic and moral value of the wild animal (Skogen et al., 2013).
Recent studies have shown that there might also be an inborn preparedness for fearing dangerous animals. This combined with an emotional trigger, such as watching someone react to the presence of or talk about a scary predator, could makes us as humans more likely to be fearful towards large predators such as crocodiles and wolves (Jacobs, 2009). Combined with a cultural learning process we might be both preprogramed to fear large predators, as well as being taught that it is a good idea to stay clear of these potential dangers (Jacobs, 2009; Krange et al., 2011; Skogen et al., 2013).
Human predator conflicts are rising as human populations grow globally. Increasing human encroachment into the habitats of wolves and estuarine crocodiles are bound to set the stage for unpleasant encounters.
While the conflict in Australia is directly linked to the danger of estuarine crocodiles, the roots of the wolf conflict seem to be embedded deeper in social and economic conflict. Skogen et. al showed through their sociological study that the conflict between humans and wolves in Norway are more deeply imbedded in the communities, and especially the hunting societies, of rural Norway than previously thought.
These findings might explain why Australian people are more accepting of their apex predator than Norwegians. Even though Australians score the crocodile low on a likability index and there is common knowledge that crocodiles kill and eat humans, even the sceptics in Australia still make the claim that “it has a right to exist”. While Norwegian sceptics also makes the claim that “it has a right to exist”, they often add “just not here.”(Krange et al., 2011; Skogen et al., 2013).
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