Livestock farmer guiding cattle in Mustang, Nepal. Photo credit: Aishwarya Bhattacharjee.

By Aishwarya Bhattacharjee, Bipana Sadadev, Dikpal Karmacharya, Rishi Baral, Juan M. Pérez-García, Andrés Giménez, José Antonio Sánchez-Zapata, and José D. Anadón.

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Different aspects of nature provide beneficial and detrimental contributions to people’s quality of life. Scavengers are often referred to as “nature’s clean up crew”, living among us and providing an essential benefit: recycling organic matter/nutrients in the environment. A wide range of animals scavenge, including several species of high conservation importance around the globe. Livestock farmers are often familiar with scavenging animals, since they frequently interact with wildlife or experience human-wildlife conflicts. The inclusion of human perceptions, and traditional knowledge from local contact with nature, has proven critical for effective conservation and ecosystem management. In that context, an examination of the human-scavenger relationship benefits from an approach that considers the complex interplay between societal factors and the nature of one’s connection with their natural surroundings.

We conducted 141 surveys with livestock farmers in Central Nepal to examine perceptions and knowledge of an entire scavenger community and their ecosystem role via the removal of animal carcasses. We explored (1) how farmers perceive the contributions of scavenging animals and the importance placed on their scavenging function (2) if certain species are perceived differently within these two criteria, and (3) which sociodemographic traits influence these perceptions.

Perceptions of importance for carcass removal varied across species, yet only avian scavengers were perceived as providing beneficial contributions to farmers. This suggests that, except for vultures, there is a disconnect between the recognition of carcass removal as an important function and the benefits derived by farmers from scavengers. Affluence-related traits, such as more schooling, drove more positive valuations of scavengers’ contributions to farmers, while traditional pastoral practices fostered greater awareness and importance placed on scavengers’ ecosystem function of carcass removal. Respondents with an environmental education reported lower favorability for scavengers’ value to them, suggesting that current measures may be unable to overcome ongoing human-wildlife conflicts.

Our findings shed light on how local perceptions of a key community stakeholder and their experience-based knowledge shape attitudes towards an entire group of scavenger species. This deeper insight can inform conservation and management priorities by considering the relative differences among species in public perception and awareness.