Newswise — A new article co-authored by Boise State Assistant Professor Neil Carter found that conservationists have wide-ranging viewpoints on how to best preserve and coexist with large carnivores, such as brown bears, gray wolves and tigers. These animals are considered to be at the top of their food chain in their native habitats. 

"We conducted this survey because the number of different critical questions about carnivore conservation has been increasing," explained Carter. "It's not just 'Should we or shouldn't we?' but 'How do we?' Through shared landscapes, protected areas, or something else?"

The research is especially critical as these questions, and the viewpoints that support them, can influence conservation policies.

For the February article published in the journal Biological Conservation, "Conservation professionals agree on challenges to coexisting with large carnivores but not on solutions," researchers conducted an online survey assessing a wide range of viewpoints about large carnivore conservation among international professionals. The group surveyed 505 participants hailing from 71 different countries and seven continents, ranging in age from 20 to 79.

While the majority of participants – 86 percent – agreed that human beings and large carnivores can share the same landscapes, and 98 percent agreed that carnivores belong in protected areas and multi-use public lands (78 percent), when it comes to carnivores sharing private land with livestock, respondents were deeply split: only 57 percent of surveyed conservationists were in favor of such a land share.

And although there was broad consensus on the intrinsic value of large carnivores, researchers noted a great amount of polarization among conservationists regarding the use of lethal control of large carnivore populations.

Participants were split on whether to kill carnivores to regulate their population sizes (43 percent agreed, 40 percent disagreed). Majorities disagreed that increasing carnivores' fear of humans (67 percent), economic benefits (62 percent), recreational hunting (54 percent) or human tolerance of carnivores (51 percent) were appropriate reasons to kill a carnivore.

Researchers found that the conservation community largely agreed that humans must adjust to and accept some level of conflict with carnivores to achieve coexistence on shared landscapes.

Their results indicate that there is considerable diversity of thought concerning how to proceed with large carnivore conservation in our increasingly human-influenced landscapes. The different observed viewpoints represent both different strategies about how to best conserve, but also different moral platforms about what, how, where and for whom conservation should occur.

The study underlines that by finding areas of consensus among the global conservation community the results can help advance debate, provide new insights on coexistence goals, and identify publicly-supported conservation strategies.

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Biological Conservation