Implementing a comprehensive approach to study the causes of human-bear (Ursus arctos pruinosus) conflicts in the Sanjiangyuan region, China
Personal injury and property loss caused by wildlife often deteriorates the relationship between humans and animals, prompting retaliatory killings that threaten species survival. Conflicts between humans and Tibetan brown bears (Ursus arctos pruinosus) (Human-Bear Conflicts, HBC) in the Sanjiangyuan region have recently dramatically increased, seriously affecting community enthusiasm for brown bears and the conservation of other species. In order to understand the driving mechanisms of HBC, we proposed six potential drivers leading to increased occurrences of HBC. We conducted field research in Zhiduo County of the Sanjiangyuan region from 2017 to 2019 to test hypotheses through semi-constructed interviews, marmot (Marmota himalayana) density surveys and brown bear diet analysis based on metagenomic sequencing. Analysis of herder perceptions revealed that the driving factors of HBC were related to changes in their settlement practice and living habits, changes in foraging behavior of brown bears and recovery of the brown bear population. Since the establishment of winter homes, brown bears have gradually learned to utilize the food in unattended homes. Although 91.4% (n = 285) of the respondents no longer store food in unattended homes, brown bears were reported to still frequently approach winter homes for food due to improper disposal of dead livestock and household garbage. The frequency and abundance of marmots were found to be high in brown bear diet, indicating that marmots were the bears' primary food. However, marmot density had no significant effect on brown bears utilizing human food (P = 0.329), and HBC appears to not be caused by natural food shortages. Distance to rocky outcrops (P = 0.022) and winter homes (P = 0.040) were the key factors linked to brown bears pursuing human food. The number of brown bears has increased over the past decade, and HBC is likely linked to its population recovery. Our findings will provide scientific basis for formulating effective mitigation measures and protection countermeasures for brown bears.