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Vultures attacking livestock: a problem of vulture behavioural change or farmers’ perception?



Human-wildlife conflicts are often partly due to biased human perceptions about the real damage caused by wildlife. While Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus are obligate scavengers, 156 complaint reports about vultures attacking livestock were officially recorded over eight years (2007–2014) in France. We investigated whether this conflict could be explained by a change in vulture behaviour, or by a biased perception by farmers. If vultures became predators, as a consequence of density-dependent processes, we predicted that reports would concern mostly ante-mortem consumption of healthy livestock and would be temporally and spatially correlated to vulture population size and space use. Under the hypothesis of perception bias of farmers, we predicted that reports would concern mostly post-mortem consumption, and would be more numerous in areas where farmers are less familiar with vultures and where herds are less attended by shepherds. The spatio-temporal distribution of reports was not correlated with the vulture’s population trend and was not centred on the core area of vulture home range. In 67% of reports, vultures consumed post-mortem an animal that had died for other reasons. In 18% of reports, vultures consumed ante-mortem an animal that was immobile and close to death before vulture arrival. The fact that 90% of complaining farmers did not own vulture supplementary feeding stations and that 40% of these farms were located outside protected areas (where most education programmes take place) suggests that most farmers had little familiarity or personal knowledge of vultures. There was no shepherd witness present in 95% of the reports. Therefore, the hypothesis of a perception bias due to lack of knowledge was most likely to explain this vulture-livestock conflict rather than the hypothesis of a recent change in vulture feeding behaviour. Environmental education should be better included in conservation programmes and enhanced in areas where vultures are expanding to recolonise their former distribution range.

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