How should conflict with wildlife be handled? - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

How should conflict with wildlife be handled?

Veterinary Practice’s conservation correspondent is concerned by the knee-jerk reaction to fatal shark attacks off Australia

THROUGHOUT history man has
come into conflict with large
predators. Such animals have
predated on farmed livestock and
in the worst case scenario on man
himself.

In Britain it was largely bears and
particularly wolves that
were the culprits. In other
parts of the world the great cats such as lions,
tigers, leopards, pumas and
jaguars have sometimes
wreaked havoc on local
communities, with individual animals
seemingly developing a liking for
human flesh.

Reptiles too have killed humans.
Crocodiles in Africa, alligators in the
Americas, and the notorious saltwater
crocodiles or “salties” of Australia and
Oceana have all been responsible for
human deaths over the years.

It is generally the mammalian land
predators that have suffered the
greatest reduction in numbers as a
direct result of these animal/human
conflicts. This is largely because they
are the most difficult to avoid as
increasing human populations encroach on and begin to shape the
habitat in which they live. And as their
habitat and food sources are reduced,
so they turn to other food options
such as domestic stock and humans.

Living in close proximity to these
animals and in relative harmony is one of the big challenges facing the world
as more land is brought into
agricultural production.

Whilst it is easy to understand the
dilemmas posed by the above
examples, it is less easy to condone the
recent knee-jerk reaction of the
Government of Western Australia to
seven fatal shark attacks off Perth’s
beaches in the last three years.

It has decided on a policy of laying
tens of baited hooks a kilometre off-
shore with the intention of capturing
sharks in the area. Contracts have been
awarded to commercial fishermen to
monitor the baits and to shoot any captured shark that
is over three metres
in length.

The policy has
by no means been
met with universal
acclaim by the
residents of Western
Australia. Indeed,
early in January this
year more than 4,000 people gathered
at one of Perth’s beaches to signal
their disapproval of the policy and
online petitions have been started in
order to persuade the government to
change its view.

Protected species

The reasons behind rejection of the
so-called “cull” are numerous and
largely valid. Sharks are already in
decline worldwide due to overfishing
for their fins and the Great white is a
protected species in many parts of the
world. This is one of the main species
targeted by the policy along with tiger
and bull sharks.

Other groups of interested parties
such as scuba divers have suggested
that the baited hooks may actually attract more sharks
into the area, putting
them at greater risk
of attack, a
possibility roundly
denied by the
authorities.

Other protesters
simply say that the
ocean is a dangerous place and that swimmers, surfers and
divers need to be aware of that and to
accept the risks they run when
entering it. They also point to the fact
that tens of people drown in the seas
around Australia every year – many,
many times more than are killed by
sharks.

Whenever there is a conflict between
the interests of humans and wildlife
there is controversy over how it should
be handled. All too frequently the
option to kill the “offending” animals
appears high on the agenda regardless
of whether the science supports the
effectiveness of such an option. Being
seen to do something (even if that
something may be counterproductive)
frequently overrides the need for
reason and common sense.

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