The leading cause of human-bear conflict is habitat loss: Rainforest destruction in Indonesia (Rini Sulaiman/ Norwegian Embassy – Center for International Forestry Research)

Introduction: Cause & effect

Increasingly bears throughout the world are facing human encroachment into their habitat, be it in the form of housing development, industry, logging, agriculture, road-building or tourism.  The most common results of such encroachment are increased conflict situations between bears and people, and bear range reduction.  Whilst the additional adverse effects of habitat fragmentation and the resultant biological population insularisation may not be immediately apparent they are nonetheless severe or even critical to the continued survival of the affected bears.

Judging from popular press coverage, particularly in India, the USA and Canada, you might think that bears and people just don’t get along.  In fact the opposite is the case.  Conflicts between bears and people are very rare, and conflicts that result in physical contact and injury or death are very, very few and far between.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) lists the following as causes of conflict as being of greatest concern:

  • people moving into an area inhabited by bears
  • the availability of human resources to bears (such as crops and other food)
  • human tolerance of wildlife decreasing, due to a variety of factors, in areas where people and bears have been co-existing.

Whilst many individuals and organisations  portray bears as dangerous, any form of conflict represents a far greater threat to the bear or bears involved than to the humans.  All too often the end result of a conflict is the death of a bear.

Bears visiting humansSkeeze / Creative Commons

Bears seldom if ever choose to live in human populated areas.  But in certain circumstances, and at certain times of the year, they may choose to visit places where people live and/or work.  Generally there are four main reasons why this may be the case:

1 Displacement: the bear is newly separated from its mother and is looking for a safe territory or the bear has been displaced from its established territory by the presence of another bear

2 Human encroachment: the bear is moving around its territory and humans have moved into the area

3 Hunger: the bear is hungry due to a lack of natural foodstuffs in its normal territory and is seeking other food sources

4 Human thoughtlessness or stupidity: the bear is attracted to garbage, bird-food, unsecured foodstuffs or barbecues.

By far the commonest cause of conflict and potential conflict situations is also the easiest to prevent: number four, human thoughtlessness or stupidity.

The single greatest cause of deforestation is agriculture as forests are clear-cut to make way for plantations and fields.  As well as the obvious loss and fragmentation of habitat, the development of agriculture also increases the chances of conflict between humans and bears and also makes bears more accessible to poachers.

Humans visiting bearsTrail warning at Morraine Lake, British Columbia, Canada (David Meanwell – Bear Conservation)

Increasingly bears throughout the world are facing human encroachment into their habitat be it in the form of housing developmet, industry, logging, agriculture, road-building or tourism.  The most common results of such encroachment are increased conflict situations between bears and people, and bear range reduction.  Whilst the additional adverse effects of habitat fragmentation and the resultant biological population insularisation may not be immediately apparent they are nontheless severe or even critical to the continued survival of the affected bears.

Consequences

Habitat loss is generally considered to be the most significant and immediate threat to each of the eight species of bear.  Not only does the loss put pressure on bear populations by reducing their available ranges, it also drives them closer to areas of human population and onto cultivated land.

The single greatest cause of deforestation is agriculture as forests are clear-cut to make way for plantations and fields.  As well as the obvious loss and fragmentation of habitat, the development of agriculture also increases the chances of conflict between humans and bears and also makes bears more accessible to poachers.

Bears live in remote areas, in forests, on mountain sides and wilderness areas and, as such, might seem unlikely candidates to be threatened by the growth of industry.  However, their habitats often contain significant mineral deposits which, as demand and therefore value increase, are becoming ever more attractive to companies keen to extract this hidden source of financial wealth.  Along with the disturbance and habitat destruction directly attributable to the development of mines, quarries and oil extraction come the added threats of pollution and road-building.  The threats to bears from roads are covered in more details elsewhere on this website and include traffic caused fatalities and improved access to remote areas for hunters nad poachers.

MORE INFORMATION

“Genetic consequences of habitat fragmentation Florida” (downloads from our website).  Habitat loss and fragmentation can influence the genetic structure of biological populations.  This paper studies the genetic consequences of habitat fragmentation in Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) populations.

“Bearing the brunt” Japan Times 2009 article on the rise in human/bear conflict in Japan, citing forest degradation as a key factor.

See also Transport systems (road and rail).

 

Page created 16 September 2017

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