High-level policy debates surrounding elephant management often dominate global conservation headlines, yet realities for people living with wildlife are not adequately incorporated into policymaking or evident in related discourse.
Human health and livelihoods can be severely impacted by wildlife and indirectly by policy outcomes. In landscapes where growing human and elephant (Loxodonta spp. and Elephas maximus) populations compete over limited resources, human-elephant conflict causes crop loss, human injury and death, and retaliatory killing of wildlife.
Across Africa, these problems may be increasingly compounded by climate change, which intensifies resource competition and food insecurity. Here, we examine how human-wildlife impacts interact with climate change and household food insecurity across the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, the world’s largest terrestrial transboundary conservation area, spanning five African nations. We use hierarchical Bayesian statistical models to analyze multi-country household data together with longitudinal satellite-based climate measures relevant to rainfed agriculture. We find that crop depredation by wildlife, primarily elephants, impacts 58% of sampled households annually and is associated with significant increases in food insecurity. These wildlife impacts compound effects of changing climate on food insecurity, most notably observed as a 5-day shortening of the rainy season per 10 years across the data record (1981–2018). To advance sustainability goals, global conservation policy must better integrate empirical evidence on the challenges of human-wildlife coexistence into longer term strategies at transboundary scales, specifically in the context of climate change.