Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 112



Feature
Wildlife solutions for a crowded planet
A centuries-long war has been ongoing in the Western Cape province of
South Africa – a war that pre-dates apartheid, the South African war and
the militaristic rise of the Zulu Kingdom. It is a battle between humans
and baboons over territory and food; just one example of conflict
between people and wildlife on our crowded planet.
Most of the Cape Peninsula, which used to be the baboons’ natural habitat for
foraging and breeding, has been taken over by the growing population of humans,
and baboons have been pushed into the peripheries, particularly into
mountainous areas, where food is scarce.
“The baboons have been marooned by a rising tide
of humanity,” says Justin O’Riain, professor in the
Department of Biological Sciences and director of the
new Human–Wildlife Institute. “They are trapped on
the higher reaches of mountainous areas – like small
islands in the seas of human settlements – and even there,
humans occasionally spill over into the land set aside for
them and other wildlife. When they are forced to descend
during lean times, they encounter dense residential areas
with their easy pickings, which sets the scene for chronic
levels of conflict.”
It is to help find a balance between human and wildlife
needs that the new Human–Wildlife Institute was
formed. It will pull together expertise from a range
of disciplines, firstly to understand the drivers of
conflict, and then to engage with managers and
policymakers to devise sustainable solutions for local,
national and global conservation conflicts.
“We used to study interactions only between humans and
wildlife,” explains O’Riain, “and through collaboration with
colleagues in the humanities, we have learnt the importance
of understanding the conflict that exists between humans
on how best to approach long-standing conflicts between
people and wildlife.”
A complex world of conflicts
O’Riain first tasted the complex world of conflicts in
conservation when his students got involved with the
study of the chacma baboon crisis in the Cape Peninsula
more than 10 years ago.
“Our initial interest was purely biological; however,
we soon discovered that the biggest battles were
in the boardrooms, as different philosophies
and approaches were contested for managing
the population. One of the core problems
was the public’s lack of understanding of
107 UCT RESEARCH & INNOVATION 2015–16





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