Relationships between humans and wolves are often linked to conflicts with livestock breeding activities. Contrary to a widespread belief among western environmentalists, these conflicts don't only occur only in western countries, even though their intensity often appears lower in other places. Indeed, in many countries, livestock breeding activities have been dealing with wolves for centuries and rural societies have developed paths to coexistence through protection of livestock and control of wolf populations.
However, the world is changing, and rural societies are facing changes that can affect the way they relate to large carnivores like wolves. It is particularly obvious in countries which went through dramatic and rapid transition processes after the fall of USSR and Yugoslavia.
Researchers from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research conducted ethnological investigations based on participant observation and semi-structured interviews on human-wolf relationships in Kyrgyzstan (2003-2007) and Republic of Macedonia (2007-2008) which both have been subjected to rapid social changes.
The investigations highlighted that the institutional and economic crisis following the collapse of the USSR and Yugoslavia had a strong impact on livestock breeding and hunting activities which were highly dependent on State support. Wolf hunting was also affected in Kyrgyzstan as economic and logistical means supporting intensive wolf hunting were no longer available after the collapse of the USSR.
The studies revealed that these changes in hunting and husbandry practices have led to modifications of the human -- wolf interactions as well as of the social and environmental contexts of human -- wolf relationships.
In Kyrgyzstan, wolves used to be seen as an intelligent alter ego of humans and were regarded as respectable enemies that had to be controlled in order to protect the collective flocks. Now they are perceived more as a threat to the Kyrgyz's main capital in times of crisis, i.e. the flock they are trying to increase, and as an animal that should be eliminated.
In Macedonia livestock breeding is a weakened activity facing economic difficulties. Livestock breeders are tending to reduce the size of their flocks and they feel socially isolated in rural areas depopulated by rural abandonment. In this context, wolves are not perceived as the main threat to their future, but as an additional threat which can be eliminated since it is of no obvious use.
Thus, changes following the collapse of USSR and Yugoslavia have resulted in an increased vulnerability of local people to wolf damage and a concomitant reduced acceptance for wolves. All these changes contribute to changes in the perception of the wolf and to an increase in the perception of conflicts, even in countries where humans and wolves have continuously coexisted.
The results show that the human-wolf relationship is dynamic, as well as highlighting the necessity of understanding the broader socio-economical context within which human-wildlife conflicts are embedded, and the challenge pastoralists are facing in a changing world.
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