Working together to fight against urban human-wildlife conflicts

The PUBLIC’s indignation at the recent slaughter of dark leaf monkeys in Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan, marks the rise of an “eco-awakening” in this country. Basically, people care about their wildlife. Besides the public, several non-governmental organizations have raised concerns about the incident and the actions taken against the monkeys, which are protected under the 2010 Wildlife Conservation Act.

The Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan), the agency responsible for the slaughter, responded with a statement saying only seven aggressive individuals were shot and not 20 as reported. According to the statement, leaf monkeys in this particular area have attacked humans three times in the past, one case resulting in serious injuries.

These reported attacks on humans are examples of human-wildlife conflict, and we must address the problem appropriately. WWF-Malaysia recognizes that it can be difficult to balance the needs of humans and wildlife, especially when human casualties are involved. However, we need to empathize with people and wildlife, and consider their well-being and interests at the same time.

We strongly urge the authorities to collaborate more with other wildlife experts to strategically manage human-wildlife conflict, to cover all bases and ensure satisfactory outcomes for all parties.

We must ask ourselves: Were all other reasonable avenues exhausted before taking the drastic action of culling? Slaughter should only be seen as the absolute last resort.

This devastating incident is symptomatic of the larger problem of urban human-wildlife conflict. Being a shy species, if langurs had indeed been aggressive, we must consider the possibility that this behavior was triggered by disturbances to their environment, habitat and food resources.

WWF-Malaysia’s work on nature conservation recognizes that it can be difficult to balance economic development needs with sufficient natural habitat for wildlife, but there are ways to resolve this urban human-wildlife conflict. . Most importantly, we are building on our living landscapes approach which relies on the Three Pillars of Protect, Produce and Restore to identify possible solutions to this dilemma.

When we first started taking this approach, critics wondered if anyone would deliberately set aside land to create a wildlife corridor to connect fragmented forests. Today, to support conservation, there are private companies doing just that. In Sabah, where the living landscapes approach has started to gain acceptance, we are seeing attempts to reconnect and restore degraded orangutan habitats and wildlife corridors for Borneo elephants to roam the plantations.

With this in mind, we urge the authorities to undertake an inventory of the fauna present in urban forests and nature reserves. Trees such as ficus which produce fruit throughout the year and leaf shoots adapted to the species could then be planted to enrich the habitat.

Second, we call on residents and communities to work with law enforcement agencies on proper waste management to prevent animals from rummaging through garbage cans for food.

We need to consider the possible extinction of these wildlife species in the longer term. Being isolated, they would reproduce with each other and eventually lose a genetic variation that would lead to local extinction. To avoid this, we need to identify suitable urban forests and establish wildlife corridors to reconnect them. The banks of rivers and roads with large reserves can also be identified as potential corridors to connect urban forests. Over time, a network of interconnected urban forests could be established, allowing wildlife populations to move from place to place to reproduce, maintaining their genetic variation and, therefore, their health.

Improving connectivity using wildlife corridors in urban areas requires collaboration between multiple parties – from authorities to developers, with the support of wildlife experts and local organizations to resolve human urban conflict – wildlife. Essentially, the conservation of wildlife and the provision of natural spaces must be integrated into urban planning.

Public acceptance is crucial as there is a need for shared spaces between humans and wildlife. For this to happen, education and exposure to wildlife management at all levels is essential to promote coexistence between humans and animals in urban areas. Due to the little interaction or experience with animals, many people do not understand animal behavior. That is why more dialogue and awareness must be done to educate the public on how to respond to the presence of an animal. It also requires everyone to work together – from town halls, residents’ associations and civil societies to schools and businesses.

Government agencies would benefit from working together and building relationships with the community. A step in the right direction would be to communicate to the public their standard operating procedure for resolving human-wildlife conflicts. Public comments could help improve the dissemination of the POS or revise procedures if necessary.

Protecting wildlife is a huge responsibility that should be taken on by everyone, and we hope that ultimately solutions can be found that will be beneficial to all parties involved.

SOPHIA LIM

Executive Director and General Manager, WWF-Malaysia


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