Last updated January 11, 2018 at 11:27 am
Between 1946 and 2010 conflicts occurred in 71% of protected African areas.
Over the past 70 years, humans have been continuously at war in some of the world’s most important biodiverse regions. Despite the widespread presence of human conflicts in these regions, until now we haven’t had good data on how this affects wildlife populations.
Previous research has shown that individual conflicts can have both positive and negative effects. Wars can relax pressure on wildlife populations when people avoid combat zones. The abandoned Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea is home to species which are extinct anywhere else on the peninsula. Wars can also interrupt mining activity, as happened in Nicaragua, where violence in the 1980s led to the withdrawal of multinational timber companies, benefiting local wildlife.
There are many more examples of wars causing havoc to local wildlife. Whether directly from conflict activity like the laying of mines or use of chemicals, to indirectly through bushmeat hunting by soldiers or refugees, or increased trade in animal products like ivory to fund military activities. Recent conflicts in South Sudan have seen the elephant population drop by half since 2011.
In a new study in Nature, Joshua Daskin and Robert Pringle find “the mere occurrence of conflict, irrespective of its human death toll, was sufficient to diminish wildlife populations.” Their study was the first to try and measure the effect on wildlife populations over a wide area across several decades. Their data set analysed 36 different large mammal species in 19 countries over 65 years of conflicts, and showed that while there may both positive and negative effects, “the overarching trend is negative”, and even low level, infrequent conflicts led to drops in wildlife populations below their replacement rates.
While conflict drove down numbers in animal populations, actual extinctions were rare, even for areas that had extremely high levels of persistent fighting. So there is hope that local populations can recover, and the authors suggest that sustained conservation efforts in war zones, and rapid interventions following cease-fires, could help to save endangered wildlife populations and species.