Moving from Human-Cat Conflict to Coexistence

By Kelly Carton
Lead Integrated Content Strategist

Black jaguar in Costa Rica

“We have to find a way to coexist,” Regional Director of Costa Rica and Mesoamerica Dr. Roberto Salom-Pérez explains, “and Panthera has proven there are many ways to do so.” While living alongside large carnivores like jaguars and pumas comes with real challenges, Panthera’s Wild Cat Conflict Response Unit addresses these threats. Meanwhile, our Fishing Cat Conservation Promotion Project is helping to mitigate retaliatory killings of fishing cats by raising awareness and engaging the local community. And in Zambia, around the massive Greater Kafue Ecosystem, lion-proof bomas protect not only livestock, but also lions, leopards and other carnivores. Learn more about how Panthera addresses human-cat conflict and creates solutions to increase coexistence.

Competing with Fishing Cats for Prey  

As their name would suggest, fishing cats have an affinity for water. Their long bodies and small, partially webbed feet are well-designed for catching fish. At the base of the steep mountains in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park in peninsular Thailand, both fishing cats and nearby communities fish for their livelihoods. As a result, there have been reports of retaliatory killings of fishing cats, despite it being illegal in Thailand — one farmer even admitted to killing three. With the global fishing cat population reported as decreasing by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Panthera and its partners* are actively working together to design and deploy a solution.

Fishing cat in Thailand

Our multi-pronged approach includes the Fishing Cat Conservation Promotion Project and the collaring and monitoring of fishing cats to collect data on typical home range size, life spans and the impact of habitat fragmentation. The project involves both hands-on solutions, like reinforcing chicken pens and long-term educational opportunities, including promoting the valuable role fishing cats play in their habitats. The results appear promising. As of June 2023, the project has reported zero killings of fishing cats by humans. Living in harmony with carnivores like fishing cats comes with its challenges, but with coexistence strategies in place and a well-rounded understanding of the importance of fishing cats, it is possible. 

Lion in Zambia

Lion-Proofing Livestock and Livelihoods 

In the southern region of Zambia’s massive Greater Kafue Ecosystem, lions and leopards live close to human communities, posing a danger not only to these communities but also the livestock on which their livelihoods rely. This ecosystem is home to more than 300 lions, who typically hunt at night and have been known to kill livestock occasionally. The loss of goats or cattle can devastate a farmer’s revenue, which may lead to a vengeful attack on lions. 

Starting in 2021, Panthera has supported Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Department in implementing corrals containing livestock, or bomas, designed to keep out carnivores. As part of an extensive wildlife values program to foster human-wildlife coexistence, these enclosures can accommodate up to 70 livestock units. Five permanent enclosures have proven to be 100 percent successful. Although lions have continued to visit these enclosures, neither livestock nor humans have been injured or killed. Thanks to these successes, we plan to build at least 20 more permanent bomas this year and have future plans to reduce conflicts and improve coexistence. 

Wild Cat Conflict Response Unit in Costa Rica  

Costa Rica is teeming with biodiversity, including six wild cat species. Despite this abundance of wildlife, big cats like jaguars and pumas who are wounded, old or sick will occasionally hunt livestock because they are easy targets. Since 2012, Panthera has recorded over 470 wild cat attacks on livestock in Costa Rica. In areas like Lomas near Tortuguero National Park, where poverty and unemployment are prevalent, the loss of a single sheep or cow can be devastating — sometimes leading farmers to kill wild cats in retaliation.

Jaguar behind fence

Panthera and Costa Rica’s National System of Conservation Areas have formed the Wild Cat Conflict Response Unit, collaborating with farmers to offer solutions uniquely tailored to that community’s needs. Our team starts by visiting each farm to get a thorough understanding of each farmer’s concerns. Depending on the farm’s needs, we recommend and fund tools that proactively prevent predation, including light-emitting livestock collars, low-voltage electric fences and maternity paddocks. To ensure long-lasting change, we have also supported and trained nearly 100 wildlife officials from the Ministry of Environment who respond to reported livestock attacks and implement programs to improve coexistence between wild cats and communities. Now implemented in 150 farms across Costa Rica, these solutions have a nearly 100 percent success rate in mitigating livestock predation and have improved the perception of wild cats in these communities.

Moving to Coexistence  

Wild cats are keystone species in the landscapes in which they live, diversifying and reinforcing food webs, maintaining biodiversity and helping prevent the spread of wildlife disease. However, wild cats often share these landscapes with human communities, making coexistence essential to all of us. Panthera and its partners know that prolonged human-cat conflict can have cascading effects, creating serious problems for the entire ecosystem. Only when solutions that enable both felines and humans to thrive are implemented can we begin to see the recovery of wildlife like the recent increase in wild cat populations in Kafue National Park. Our futures are inextricably linked with that of wild cats, so thorough, mutually beneficial solutions are essential.

Jaguar tracks
©sebastian kennerknecht

Each month, we highlight a different threat facing wild cats. Read last month’s blog about the Illegal Wildlife Trade

*Panthera would like to thank our core partners in the Fishing Cat Project: the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plants Conservation (DNP), King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT), Seub Nakhasathien Foundation (SNF), Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park (KSRY), Zoological Park Organization (ZPO), Akkhararatchakumari Veterinary College (AVC, WU), and the Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University (KU).