Cultural and social aspects of livestock protection

This post is also available in: Deutsch Italiano

The implementation of livestock protection measures and the mitigation of the conflict with large carnivores are influenced by many factors: technical, economic, social and cultural.

For this reason, social scientists are also involved in LIFEstockProtect’s multidisciplinary team and within the preparatory actions we have planned activities aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of the cultural and social aspects that can influence farmers’ decision-making and behaviours. In the first months of the project, we carried out a review of qualitative and quantitative literature on sociological and cultural aspects related to the relationship between humans and large carnivores in Europe.

From this review, some very important aspects emerged.

The first one is the creation of knowledge: all human groups observe the environment around them and form knowledge based both on their observations, and their worldview and previous ideas. Wildlife, livestock and their interaction are not an exception to this. That is why when proposing livestock protection measures, it is important to also consider local knowledge, its content, how it is created and how it can be combined and integrated with more technical and scientific approaches.

It should also not be forgotten that humans and wildlife have a shared history, which have influenced each other’s behaviours and the way in which space is used and conceived both by animals and human beings. It is therefore important to take into account the historical depth of this relationship and to show shepherdesses, shepherds and breeders that protection measures can be the opportunity to transform their historical relationship with large carnivores.

The use and conceptualization of space is another important topic to consider: human beings tend to divide space, both from a symbolic and a concrete point of view, into “civilised” places and “natural” places. Wildlife, however, can violate these real or imaginary boundaries created by humans, and this often causes fear and disorientation even from a symbolic point of view. Remaining in the realm of symbolism, it is known that wildlife, and in particular some species of large carnivores, have an important place in collective representations and in European myths and legends, which can influence people’s perception of these animals and their behaviour.

Finally, connected to all these topics, it should also be considered that, often, conflicts with and about large carnivores are linked to other conflicts between different human groups: for example, between people living in cities and people living in rural environments, or between people who have different ideas about how nature should be protected or managed.​

As we have said above, all these elements can contribute to influencing the attitudes and behaviors of farmers, even in the choice of adopting livestock protection measures, therefore they must be taken into consideration together with all the other aspects when promoting these measures. Our literature review shows that there are many aspects which need further studies, in amongst others, the historical and cultural dimensions of livestock protection. To learn more about these topics, and to get some reading tips, you can take a look at the complete report prepared by the LIFEstockProtect team here:

Next steps

After the literature review, the project team will work directly in the field to study some of these aspects directly in the project regions. During the next alpine mountain pasture season, we will carry out interviews in South Tyrol, Austria and Bavaria, in order to learn about the historical and cultural aspects related to livestock protection and the relationship of human groups with large carnivores. The topics that we will go into more detail on during the fieldwork will be: traditional knowledge about animals (domestic and wild) and their position in culture, the way in which this knowledge is created, the sources used by shepherdesses, shepherds and breeders to collect information, the existence of traditional methods of livestock protection, and the farmers’ points of view about the future of their work.

This work will allow us to establish a meaningful dialogue with farmers and to create trainings adapted to local cultures.

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