The CONVIVA – convivial conservation research project aims to establish a truly transformational approach to conservation that benefits both wildlife and humans, and that combines structural change with grassroots solutions to promote co-existence, (cultural and bio)diversity and justice.

Grounded in a dedicated network of scholars and practitioners, CONVIVA’s key objective is to conceptually refine and empirically evaluate the convivial conservation proposal and pathways. It does this by comparing cutting-edge conservation strategies to address human-wildlife conflict involving apex predators in different contexts in Africa, Europe, North and South America.

Graphic to show the places of human-wildlife conflict involving apex predators in different contexts in Africa, Europe, North and South America.

1. Wolves in Finland

The EU Habitats Directive gives strict-protection status to the grey wolf (Canis lupus) in southern Finland while population control is allowed in northern reindeer herding areas. The wolf is classified as highly endangered in Finland, mainly due to human persecution and habitat fragmentation. According to the 2019 estimate, there are 165 – 190 wolves, approximately 20 packs, in Finland. The number required for sustainable reproduction would be at least 25 breeding wolf packs, but controversies surrounding wolves are an issue of national debate. We will study human-wolf relationships in the region of North Karelia in Eastern Finland, where wolves are strictly protected, but due to unknown reasons, the number of wolves has been decreasing in the past years. Many people are nonetheless concerned for the safety of their livestock, hunting dogs and children, and human-wolf relations in this area have a long and complicated history.

This study aims to understand why people’s relationship with wolves is problematic, while these same people have maintained a fairly non-conflictive and convivial relationship with bears for centuries. The 2015 population management plan for wolves in Finland launched nine concrete projects to improve conditions for co-existence. One of them was to establish local wolf cooperation groups on the landscape level. Currently, Finland has 21 such co-governance arrangements. Their working principles were created from the bottom-up, and thus differ between areas. In eastern Finland, the establishment and functioning of these cooperation groups, however, have been especially demanding. In this case study we will work closely with our partner Luonto-Liitto (the Finnish Nature League) to search for critical political, economic and scalar conditions necessary for alternative forms of convivial co-existence.

2. Grizzly Bears in USA/California

In 1850, there were an estimated 10,000 grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) in California. Grizzlies became extinct in the state by the mid-1920s, yet the species remains California’s official mascot. In 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), a non-governmental organization, petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list grizzlies in California and the South-western United States as endangered and launch a reintroduction program. The Service declined the CBD proposal, in part due to its lack of sound science. In 2016, a multidisciplinary team comprised of around two-dozen faculty, fellows, and students from the University of California, Santa Barbara, responded to public interest and this dearth of information by launching the first comprehensive study since 1955 on the past, present, and potential future of grizzlies in California. 

The goal of the California Grizzly Study Group’s work is to determine what it will take – ecologically, politically, legally, economically, etc – to recover this flagship species. CONVIVA will build on the pioneering grizzly recovery efforts already underway, while filling a crucial research gap by conducting community-based, participatory mapping, and other forms of social science field research in rural areas near proposed grizzly reintroduction sites. The goals of this work will be to better understand the attitudes, values and beliefs of residents in these areas, to identify the political and economic concerns that shape these communities’ willingness to support predator reintroduction efforts, and to identify spatial opportunities for convivial carnivore conservation in a state with 40 million people.

3. Lions in Tanzania

Tanzania contains 40% of all African lions (Panthera leo). Yet, since the 1970s, the population and species’ range have contracted by at least 30% and 82%, respectively. Human-lion conflicts, particularly livestock predation, direct persecution and habitat loss, are the primary reasons. Over the last 20 years, lions have regularly attacked and killed humans and livestock, which, together with earlier unjust outcomes of conservation in Tanzania, has inspired opposition to current conservation efforts. Our cooperation partner Lion Guardians starts its activities based on the acknowledgement of these past injustices and focuses on working with “local communities to protect lions and improve both community conservation by blending traditional knowledge and culture with science.” Lion Guardians does this through conflict mitigation activities such as reinforcement of homesteads, and participatory monitoring of problem lions. Lion Guardians started their work in Kenya, but have more recently commenced work in Tanzania. 

CONVIVA will give this work a major boost by studying context-specific strategies of convivial coexistence between humans and lions under conditions that offer limited financial resources for protecting people and livestock. We aim to build on Lion Guardians’ activities in northern and southern Tanzania in order to study different protected landscape types that include lions. The aims will be to better understand local people’s rationalities for their continued living adjacent to lion-dominated habitats, to explore costs and benefits of living in such habitats, and to contribute to finding spatial strategies for convivial conservation under different governance arrangements. Moreover, we will analyse possibilities of developing compensation schemes financed through insurance premiums that local people will voluntarily pay, following models developed elsewhere for pastoralists who lose livestock to snow leopard predation. This is important because government schemes have been ineffective since the government stopped conservation agencies’ retention of protected areas’ revenues. Finally, research will explore indigenous practices of avoiding confrontations with lions, and how to improve the practices under ongoing austerity and habitat fragmentation.

4. Jaguars in Brazil (Atlantic Forest)

The Brazilian Atlantic Forest (AF) is a highly endangered and fragmented ecosystem close to Brazil’s largest cities. Roughly 95% of the original ecosystem has already been lost, but the remaining AF pockets are still highly biodiverse and important for conservation, especially for the last remaining jaguars (Panthera onca). A keystone species crucial to other species in the ecosystem, jaguars are quickly disappearing from the AF under combined pressures of habitat loss and fragmentation, human settlement and resource extraction. The project builds on recent innovative conservation actions in AF areas in São Paulo and Paraná states by our partners Manacá Institute and National Centre for Research and Conservation of Carnivorous Mammals (CENAP/ICMBio) to allow local communities to live with jaguars. 

We build on these actions to explore the potential for the CONVIVA pathways outlined above. First, we will update data on human-jaguar conflicts and combine them with existing data to model conflict at different spatial scales across critical AF sites in the two states. Special focus will be on identifying spatial patterns of human-jaguar conflicts, taking into account biophysical, socio-economic and political variables (e.g. land use, property size, perceptions of risk and benefit, trust in wildlife agencies, social vulnerability, etc.). Second, building on these expert models, we will explore spatial solutions to human-jaguar conflicts in relation to opportunities for and challenges to economic landscape development, democratic governance and novel funding mechanisms. In times of acute austerity in Brazil, this is especially important: as state funding for conservation and development declines, new convivial forms of development and governance could enable communities experiencing human-wildlife conflicts to combat poverty and increase prosperity.