|Molise a wolf cub hit by a car saved by the State Forestry Corps
The media and scientific literature are increasingly reporting an escalation of large carnivore attacks on humans in North America and Europe. Although rare compared to human fatalities by other wildlife, the media often overplay large carnivore attacks on humans, causing increased fear and negative attitudes towards coexisting with and conserving these species. Although large carnivore populations are generally increasing in developed countries, increased numbers are not solely responsible for the observed rise in the number of attacks by large carnivores. Here we show that an increasing number of people are involved in outdoor activities and, when doing so, some people engage in risk-enhancing behaviour that can increase the probability of a risky encounter and a potential attack. About half of the well-documented reported attacks have involved risk-enhancing human behaviours, the most common of which is leaving children unattended. Our study provides unique insight into the causes, and as a result the prevention, of large carnivore attacks on people. Prevention and information that can encourage appropriate human behaviour when sharing the landscape with large carnivores are of paramount importance to reduce both potentially fatal human-carnivore encounters and their consequences to large carnivores.
During the last few decades, large carnivore attacks on humans in developed countries have increased over time. This is expected to increase people’s apprehension and reduce their willingness to share the landscape with large carnivores. Unfortunately, such rare events are usually overplayed by the media. Indeed, media coverage of such attacks generally includes sensational texts and dreadful pictures, appealing more to the public’s emotions than their logic. Denominator neglect is a well-studied phenomenon leading humans to overestimate the risk of rare events that evoke strong emotions. Overestimating the risk of large carnivore attacks on humans irrationally enhances human fear and triggers a vicious cycle that may affect the increasingly positive conservation status of many of these contentious species. With an increasing number of large carnivore attacks on humans there is, now more than ever, a need for objective and accurate information regarding not only the long-term trend and underlying mechanisms of large carnivore attacks on humans, but also potentially risky situations and risk-enhancing human behaviours. Surprisingly, the few available studies focus on attacks by single carnivore species and thus they do not provide a comprehensive perspective concerning the pervasiveness and socio-ecological correlates of this phenomenon in developed countries.
Our main hypothesis is that lack of knowledge of people about how to avoid risky encounters with large carnivores engenders risk-enhancing behaviours, which can determine an increase in the number of attacks if more humans are sharing landscape with large carnivores. Three main predictions arise from this hypothesis: (1) an increased number of people are engaging in outdoor leisure activities in areas inhabited by large carnivores; (2) many people are not prepared to safely enjoy outdoor activities or they behave inappropriately in the countryside; and (3) large carnivore attacks are influenced by the interaction between several human- and animal-related factors.
Although large carnivore attacks on humans are influenced by the interaction between multiple human- and animal-related factors, adapting our own behaviours when coexisting with large carnivores has the potential to reduce the number of attacks to about half of today’s level. The examples provided by the numerous cases of children injured/killed while left unattended by their parents, attacks on people jogging/walking alone at twilight and during hunting, should make us reflect on our responsibilities, the possibility of decreasing the number of these tragic events and changing the observed trends. Understanding the circumstances associated with large carnivore attacks should help us to reduce them and thereby minimize the role that fear and supposition may play in large carnivore management and conservation.
We did not include the wolf in Europe, because predatory attacks on people have been extremely rare during the last six decades, with the last recorded predatory attack occurring in 1974 in Spain.
How to cite this article: Penteriani, V. et al. Human behaviour can trigger large carnivore attacks in developed countries. Sci. Rep. 6, 20552; doi: 10.1038/srep20552 (2016).
José Vicente López-Bao