Shrinking habitat, increased conflict projected in regions critical to survival of threatened apex predators.

New strategies that involve better integration of people and carnivores inside and outside of protected areas will be needed if further species of carnivores are not to become extinct.

Nigel Leader-Williams

A new study confirms that the global conservation of carnivores is at risk. The paper, published in the journal Scientific Reports, models future global land conversion and estimates this will lead to significant range loss and conflict with local people in regions critical for the survival of already threatened carnivore species.

Organised by an international team of conservation and land use change scientists, including from the University of Cambridge, the study concludes that immediate action is needed to prevent habitat loss and conflict with humans in priority areas for carnivore conservation.

Mammalian carnivores have suffered the biggest range contraction of all biodiversity, and are particularly vulnerable to habitat loss and fragmentation.

“We assessed how expected land use change will affect priority areas for carnivore conservation in the future,” said study lead author Dr Enrico Di Minin from the University of Helsinki. “The analysis revealed that carnivores will suffer considerable range losses in the future. Worryingly, it seems that the most important areas for carnivore conservation are located in areas where human-carnivore conflicts are likely to be most severe.”

Presently, South American, African, and South East Asian countries, as well as India, were found to contribute mostly to carnivore conservation. While some of the most charismatic species, such as the tiger and giant panda were found to be at high risk under future land use change, smaller, less charismatic species, with small ranges were found to be equally threatened by habitat loss.

Carnivores include some of the most iconic species that help generate funding for biodiversity conservation and deliver important benefits to humans. Protecting carnivores will conserve many other bird, amphibian, reptile and mammal species that live in priority areas for carnivore conservation.

“International targets have proposed that 17 percent of land should be set aside for conservation,” said study co-author Professor Nigel Leader-Williams from Cambridge’s Department of Geography. “However, we show that this will prove inadequate for maintaining viable populations of carnivores, as well as other biodiversity. Therefore, new strategies that involve better integration of people and carnivores inside and outside of protected areas will be needed if further species of carnivores are not to become extinct.”

“Carnivores like big cats have been squeezed out of their ranges at alarming rates for decades now, and we can now see that habitat loss and its shock waves on wildlife are only on the rise,” said study co-author Dr Luke Hunter, President and Chief Conservation Officer of Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organisation. “In order to protect our planet’s landscape guardians, a far greater financial investment from the international community is needed for range-wide conservation approaches, both within and outside of protected areas where carnivores roam.”

Co-author Professor Rob Slotow, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, emphasised that reducing conflict with humans outside of protected areas is pivotal. “Most priorities for carnivore conservation are in areas in the global south where human populations are increasing in size, agriculture is intensifying, and human development needs are the highest. There is need to implement conservation strategies that promote tolerance for carnivores outside protected areas and focus on the benefits that people derive from these species.”

Reference:
Enrico Di Minin et al. ‘Global Priorities for national carnivore conservation under land use change.’ Scientific Reports (2016). DOI: 10.1038/srep23814

Adapted from University of Helsinki press release.


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