These are some headlines from international and local newspapers published over the past year. What feeling do they communicate to you? Drama? Anxiety? Urgency? Danger? Is the feeling positive or negative?
The word ‘Conflict’, when linked to the human wildlife relationship, has become the undisputed component of the media world in connection to the human / wildlife universe, overwhelming similar but less attractive elements, such as ‘interaction’, in its notoriety.
And with good reason. Human / wildlife ‘conflict’ really seems to have all the characteristics of the perfect slogan: brevity, incisiveness, drama and simplicity. Conflict is a word that we all know well. The image that derives from it in our mind is immediate, the meaning manifests itself almost automatically, and the definition sticks firmly in our minds, so much so that it almost becomes a single and inseparable word ‘humanwildlifeconflict’. Bingo!
Yet, precisely the characteristics that make this expression successful, are those that make it problematic if we think of communication as a tool to promote coexistence.
If we want to attract attention and certainly keep it, ‘Conflict’ is the right word to use. By evoking well-known images and provoking emotions, it slips quickly into the memory, helped by the fact that, linked to things that involve fighting for life, this word excites the physiological system, as if we were actually preparing for the experience itself. As fast as pop-ups, images of violence, confrontation and aggression connect to our brain and the concept of human / wildlife interaction moves ever closer to that of confrontation, the only possible solution to which – or rather the most probable – is the capitulation of one or other opponent.
Conflict is urgency, imminent drama. This is true. Solutions to promote coexistence must be found quickly, but we are not on the verge of a war in which cities are invaded by hordes of man-eaters. But the equation is simple and immediate: humans + wildlife = battle, and it goes without saying that the solutions that come to mind are few, not very relevant to many different types of human wildlife interaction and leave little room for a proactive creativity that could start right away from those communities now stiffened in their responses by exposure to Conflict’.
In fact, in carrying out their normal biological functions, animals find themselves negatively impacting our activities. ‘Accidentality’, not conflict, is what we must mitigate and try to minimize. Animals become guilty of voluntary negative actions to which we react with drastic and rapid measures such as translocation or elimination. Yet ‘translocating wildlife to resolve’ conflicts ‘has often failed to achieve its objectives due to a lack of understanding of the species’ behaviour and / or the underlying issues’ (Athreya et al. 2011). Conflict is an evocative, emotional and provocative term and therefore easily exploitable
What to do?
The use of specific words that describe the exact type of interaction (examples) may prove useful in directing those involved towards the correct solutions, understanding the behaviour of animals, directing attention in the right direction, identifying the right ‘culprits’ and defusing the situation. Coexistence or interaction certainly do not have the same charisma as ‘conflict’, but they carry important meanings. We must overcome the past that defined the terms of a narrative that we still use, often in error, and find new strategies, including communication strategies, to promote acceptance and a proactive attitude towards coexistence.