Why is it important, yet challenging?
At a superficial level, coexistence is increasingly vital, as animals and people are interacting perhaps more than ever before.
There are now hyenas in Harar, lions in Nairobi, alligators in Miami, wolves around Madrid, leopards in Mumbai, and mountain lions/bears in California. It’s a gradient of urban to wild, with multiple forms of life sharing space with humans at varying densities. While there are numerous instances of relatively peaceful coexistence, large and dangerous animals can cause considerable damage, particularly to already disempowered and vulnerable local communities - disrupt lives, damage crops and property, prey on livestock, and occasionally, even kill people.
There remains a policy vacuum on how we manage the negative impacts of shared spaces , beyond exterminating or removing the animals when they cause too much damage. We need to urgently better manage human-wildlife shared spaces to balance the needs of people and wild animals, encouraging communities to define new ways of living alongside animals and making use of opportunities enabled by technology.
While the human-wildlife interface is growing, there are also numerous examples of carefully negotiated shared spaces that date back centuries. Much can be learnt from these landscapes that are vital to other regions, with the burgeoning scientific literature on coexistence often missing these ancient/ traditional human-wildlife relationships and knowledge systems.
There are deeper roots to the importance of coexistence, linked to the land sparing/sharing debate and the best approach to saving nature. The current ecological crisis began with the discovery and extensive use of fossil fuels, and the subsequent economic system that relies on infinitely increasing consumption. The principle of a ‘common but differentiated responsibility’, though entrenched in the climate change discussion, is entirely missing from the biodiversity conservation narrative. The dominant conservation approach only focuses on making some areas free of all humans, without recognising that all people are not equally responsible for the crisis, and as a result, penalises those least responsible.
It is therefore vital to reimagine the assumptions, systems and practices that underpin the dominant conservation philosophy: not just protecting wild animals isolated in far away reserves, but also living well with all forms of nature alongside human beings. To reconnect people with nature around them, and stay committed to this cause in challenging times.