2008/9 EAZA European Carnivores
When we think about nature conservation we tend to think in terms of exotic species in faraway places. We often forget that both in the UK and on the European continent we still have many beautiful landscapes and a diverse fauna which also needs conservation help.
Living in an industrialized society it is easy to forget that wildlife still survives around us and, in some cases, even thrives. This capacity for survival does not mean that we should be complacent; often this wildlife is under pressure, hanging on by the merest thread.
Through human activities, habitats are becoming more fragmented and polluted. As carnivores move into “our” space to compensate for this, they become competitors for “our” resources and “our” living space. As a result we no longer respect them or see them as objects of beauty and wonder but rather as pests which damage our profit margins or threaten our safety.
At the same time, because carnivores are usually so easily recognizable by the general public (wolf, bear, fox) they make excellent flagships which we can use to focus public attention on conservation needs. They are also a good barometer for the condition of our environment. An environment where carnivores thrive is a healthy one.
In Europe, carnivores are confronted by two contrasting groups of problems; one devolving from an increase in carnivore numbers and the other from a decline. The theme of the campaign “Living Together” encompasses both of these. On the one hand it means acting to facilitate the survival of threatened and endangered carnivores and, on the other, learning to live with those which are actually increasing in numbers, encroaching on our territory and generating conflicts. We need strategies to integrate the presence of carnivores into our modern life on a crowded planet.
Carnivores often have a negative image (e.g. the wolf in the “Little Red Riding Hood” story ) which predisposes people to prejudice. A good education and awareness campaign can counteract this and encourage people to recognize the positive benefits of carnivores. Such a campaign can make the public aware both of the important function which carnivores have on the environment as well as the special role they have had in shaping our folklore and culture.