Armed conflict catches animals in the crossfire

Kaitlyn M Gaynor, a PhD candidate in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California–Berkeley (Berkeley, CA), shares this Frontiers Focus on the effects of war on wildlife.

Virunga National Park (formerly Albert National Park, the first in Africa) on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was founded as a haven for mountain gorillas. The park suffered losses of animals, rangers, and infrastructure starting in the 1980s, as Mobutu's waning power unleashed civil strife in the DRC. Refugees from genocide in neighboring Rwanda and militia action during the Kivu conflict brought further strain on the park. Credit, A. Blanchard.

Virunga National Park (formerly Albert National Park, the first in Africa) on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was founded as a haven for mountain gorillas. The park suffered losses of animals, rangers, and infrastructure starting in the 1980s, as Mobutu’s waning power unleashed civil strife in the DRC. Refugees from genocide in neighboring Rwanda and militia action during the Kivu conflict brought further strain on the park. Credit, H. Whismayer.

When people make war, wildlife often becomes a casualty. Explosives and war materials kill living things that are not their targets. Valuable wildlife products, like ivory, finance militias. But the most devastating effects of conflict on wildlife are driven by societal upheaval. War triggers a domino effect of institutional, economic, and social changes that can wreak havoc on the environment.

During wartime, law enforcement breaks down, food security is compromised, and livelihoods are upended. This upheaval can drive the exploitation of wildlife and other natural resources. In rare cases, war can be beneficial to wildlife. As people flee militarized regions, they may leave behind wildlife “refuges.” But these positive outcomes are few and far between, and are often accompanied by negative outcomes in another place or time.

This month in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, my colleagues and I review case studies from around the world to understand the links between war and wildlife. How, exactly, does armed conflict affect animal habitats and populations? Understanding these processes is a crucial first step toward conservation during and after wartime.


december-cover-_-finalKaitlyn M Gaynor, Kathryn J Fiorella, Gillian H Gregory, David J Kurz, Katherine L Seto, Lauren S Withey, and Justin S Brashares (2016). War and wildlife: linking armed conflict to conservation. Front Ecol Environ 14(10): 533–542; doi:10.1002/fee.1433.

 

 

Author: Frontiers Focus

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