In the last couple years I wondered a lot about what drives human-carnivore coexistence, and why people in some areas live rather peacefully with carnivores while in other regions this seems to be impossible. Being a trained ecologist, I first worked on the ecological aspects of bear distributions, and related their distribution to the frequency of conflict and people’s attitude in Southern Transylvania (see our previous blog entry here). However, human-carnivore relationships are highly complex and involve a wide variety of factors including economic, aesthetic, ecological, cultural, religious, political, and intrinsic values ascribed to carnivores. Thus, I was not fully satisfied in my attempt to come closer to an understanding of what really drives coexistence. Trying to understand more about human-carnivore coexistence motivated our recent paper, where we introduce the conceptual framework of coexistence strands to approach the complexity of coexistence.
In a team of natural and social scientists we explored factors underlying people’s perception of human-bear coexistence. Based on content and discourse analysis we collated social factors of coexistence under three coexistence strands. These coexistence strands showed different ways in which perceived interactions between people, bears and the environment shape coexistence. The “landscape-bear coexistence strand” described perceptions of the way in which the landscape offers resources for the bear, while the “landscape-human strand” related to ways in which humans experience the landscape. The “management strand” related to the way bears were managed. All three strands highlight both threats and opportunities for the peaceful coexistence of people and bears.
Our case study shows how coexistence strands can provide detailed information of factors mediating human–carnivore coexistence, and provide insights into potential intervention points for improved carnivore management. For Southern Transylvania, we advocate for a more participatory approach to carnivore management. This approach should foster people’s connection to their landscape, and provide transparency around management interventions. More broadly, the concept of coexistence strands could help to better understand human–wildlife coexistence. Coexistence strands are grounded in local realities, and thus could be a potentially powerful heuristic for deconstructing the complexity of human–carnivore coexistence. Furthermore, they are compatible with the concept of ‘‘social-ecological systems’’ because they emphasise the integration of humans in nature. Both approaches recognise interactions among social and biophysical system components, and thus stimulate interdisciplinary integration. Notably, coexistence strands rely on four components that are common to all places with human–wildlife tensions: a wildlife component, a human component, a physical space where the interaction takes place, and the management of wildlife. Thus, the elicitation of coexistence strands can lay the ground for future analysis by directing social–ecological research towards these four areas. Whereas the deconstruction of coexistence may result in similar strands in many regions, the identification of the social factors populating each strand may differ between regions or species. Thus, future research on human–carnivore coexistence could empirically populate coexistence strands for different regions and species in order to better understand how social–ecological factors shape human–carnivore coexistence.