Living in a multispecies landscape: An exploration of sheep farmers' perceptions and experiences of human-wolf coexistence in the Netherlands
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Human-wildlife conflict, such as livestock depredation, is increasing worldwide. To minimize human-wildlife conflicts, governments focus primarily on technical and financial fixes. Nonetheless, conflict is rarely resolved despite the implementation of these measures. This insight led to the notion that human-wildlife conflicts are not per se with wildlife, but rather between human stakeholder about wildlife. A growing focus on the more holistic term of human-wildlife coexistence (instead of conflict), which includes local people’s perceptions and experiences, is therefore seen as a positive development. Still, a significant knowledge gap concerning human-wildlife coexistence exists in the form of how to effectively enable and govern human-wildlife coexistence. Moreover, critics argue that human-wildlife coexistence has become excessively human-centred and further argue that research into human-wildlife coexistence is narrow because it often includes just one non-human species and identify this as an important reason for why coexistence governance is still insufficient in many cases. In contrast to human-wildlife coexistence, multispecies sciences recognize non-human species as active co-creators of the landscapes we inhabit, and of the perceptions and experiences we have in relation to the landscape and to the multiple non-human species therein. Therefore, to address coexistence’s conceptual shortcoming of being human-centred and to decrease abovementioned knowledge gap, this research explored the case of sheep farmer-wolf coexistence in the Netherlands by using a multispecies approach. Through in-depth semi-structured interviews with sheep farmers and provincial government officials this research aimed at answering the following research question: “How do sheep farmers perceive and experience human-wolf coexistence and how can a multispecies approach contribute to the understanding of coexistence and the governance thereof?” The findings illustrate that sheep farmers perceive and experience many challenges concerning 1) the threat of sheep depredation by especially roaming wolves; 2) a lack of knowledge on how to adapt to wolves; 3) the implementation of preventive measures; 4) the ambiguity of wolf governance. These challenges were found to be embedded in and influenced by: sheep farmers’ notions of out-of-placeness; intraspecies differences between roaming wolves and settled wolves; multispecies relations between sheep farmers, their sheep, wolves, and other wildlife species; established sheep farming practices in a changing landscape; and biopolitical decisions that are perceived to favour wolves. In conclusion, the use of a multispecies approach resulted in new understandings of sheep farmer-wolf coexistence in the Netherlands. Therefore, it is recommended that future research into human-wildlife coexistence, and coexistence governance includes a multispecies approach.