Terrestrial carnivores and human food production: impact and management
*P. Baker, Plant Science Laboratories, School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading RG6 6AS, UK. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 1The production of food for human consumption has led to an historical and global conflict with terrestrial carnivores, which in turn has resulted in the extinction or extirpation of many species, although some have benefited. At present, carnivores affect food production by: (i) killing human producers; killing and/or eating (ii) fish/shellfish; (iii) game/wildfowl; (iv) livestock; (v) damaging crops; (vi) transmitting diseases; and (vii) through trophic interactions with other species in agricultural landscapes. Conversely, carnivores can themselves be a source of dietary protein (bushmeat).
- 2Globally, the major areas of conflict are predation on livestock and the transmission of rabies. At a broad scale, livestock predation is a customary problem where predators are present and has been quantified for a broad range of carnivore species, although the veracity of these estimates is equivocal. Typically, but not always, losses are small relative to the numbers held, but can be a significant proportion of total livestock mortality. Losses experienced by producers are often highly variable, indicating that factors such as husbandry practices and predator behaviour may significantly affect the relative vulnerability of properties in the wider landscape. Within livestock herds, juvenile animals are particularly vulnerable.
- 3Proactive and reactive culling are widely practised as a means to limit predation on livestock and game. Historic changes in species' distributions and abundance illustrate that culling programmes can be very effective at reducing predator density, although such substantive impacts are generally considered undesirable for native predators. However, despite their prevalence, the effectiveness, efficiency and the benefit:cost ratio of culling programmes have been poorly studied.
- 4A wide range of non-lethal methods to limit predation has been studied. However, many of these have their practical limitations and are unlikely to be widely applicable.
- 5Lethal approaches are likely to dominate the management of terrestrial carnivores for the foreseeable future, but animal welfare considerations are increasingly likely to influence management strategies. The adoption of non-lethal approaches will depend upon proof of their effectiveness and the willingness of stakeholders to implement them, and, in some cases, appropriate licensing and legislation.
- 6Overall, it is apparent that we still understand relatively little about the importance of factors affecting predation on livestock and how to manage this conflict effectively. We consider the following avenues of research to be essential: (i) quantified assessments of the loss of viable livestock; (ii) landscape-level studies of contiguous properties to quantify losses associated with variables such as different husbandry practices; (iii) replicated experimental manipulations to identify the relative benefit of particular management practices, incorporating (iv) techniques to identify individual predators killing stock; and (v) economic analyses of different management approaches to quantify optimal production strategies.