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Large carnivore attacks are increasing as human impacts expand

Since 1970, reports of large carnivore attacks on humans have increased. According to a new study published in PLoS Biology, the frequency and context of these attacks depends on socioeconomic and environmental factors.

Giulia Bombieri of MUSE Science Museum in Italy and Vincenzo Penteriani of the National Museum of Natural Science (CSIC) in Spain collected information on reported attacks by 12 species of carnivores between 1970 and 2019. 

Using scientific papers, web pages, and news reports, the experts identified 5,089 reported attacks by large carnivores that resulted in injury, of which 32 percent were fatal. Over the 49 year period, the number of reported attacks increased, particularly in lower-income countries.

“Large carnivores have long fascinated human societies and have profound influences on ecosystems. However, their conservation represents one of the greatest challenges of our time, particularly where attacks on humans occur. Where human recreational and/or livelihood activities overlap with large carnivore ranges, conflicts can become particularly serious,” wrote the study authors. 

The research showed that a staggering 90 percent of attacks in low-income countries took place while individuals were farming, fishing, or grazing livestock. In high-income countries, attacks were most common during recreational activities, such as hiking, camping, or dog-walking. In high income countries, attacks were also less likely to be fatal.

Wild felids (large cats) and canids (dog-like carnivores) were responsible for more predatory attacks, while bears were more likely to attack when surprised, defending cubs, or in food-related interactions. The most fatal attacks occurred in lower-income countries where tigers and lions are present. 

The findings suggest that approaches to reduce large carnivore attacks should be tailored to the socioeconomic context. 

“When human recreational and/or livelihood activities overlap with large carnivore ranges, it is crucial to understand how to live with species that can pose threats to humans,” said Penteriani.

“Factors triggering large carnivore attacks on humans depend on the combination of local socio-economic and ecological factors, which implies that measures to reduce large carnivore attacks must consider the diverse local ecological and social contexts.”

For example, high-income countries can implement education campaigns about high-risk behaviors and how to avoid dangerous encounters. In lower-income countries, zoning changes should expand protective areas and separate humans and livestock from large carnivore habitats. 

However, these preventative measures may be challenging to implement as the global population grows.

By Katherine Bucko, Staff Writer

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