Armed Conflicts Threaten More Than 75% Of World’s Mammals, Birds: Study
Habitats of more than three-quarters of the world’s terrestrial birds and mammal species were exposed to armed conflicts — sometimes for prolonged durations — over the last three decades, a new study has found.
Published in Conservation Letters, the study showed that 9,056 species of birds, and 4,291 terrestrial mammals, including tigers and elephants, witnessed armed conflicts. Out of them, the habitats of 615 species were threatened due to unrest for more than 15 years at a time. The damage from wars and conflicts to biodiversity extends beyond being caught in the crossfire between warring groups.
“Species overlapping with armed conflicts were more likely to face threats from hunting, deforestation, and various forms of habitat degradation,” the study notes. Uttara Mendiratta from Wildlife Conservation Society, India, who was also the lead author of the study, told The Hindu that “armed conflict is not a singular threat but instead is associated with a variety of other threats to species and habitats.”
Armed conflicts can intensify existing threats to wildlife species. During the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo — that lasted between 1995 to 2006 — the number of African elephant species in the region was almost halved. The reason was militia in central Africa were killing the animals to trade their ivory and fund military activities.
The situation is similar in India. Reportedly, conflict, and the ensuing civil unrest, around Assam’s Manas National Park from the late 1980s until 2003 triggered the breakdown of ecosystem in the region — including measures to protect wildlife. This resulted in the greater one-horned rhinoceros becoming locally extinct during the period, and the population of the swamp deer in the region declining drastically.
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Other Indian regions have faced similar harms to biodiversity. “…conflicts [along] the disputed India-Pakistan border have affected species such as the endangered markhor, and in Jharkhand, [the] conflict has impacted protection capacity in the Palamau Tiger Reserve,” Abishek Harihar, a scientist with conservation NGOs like Panthera and the Nature Conservation Foundation, who also co-authored of the study, told The Wire.
Notably, the civil unrest triggered by armed conflicts also intervenes with the harmonious existence of animals — just the way civilian life is impacted. During periods of civil unrest, as humans struggle to just survive, often “environmental management systems break down,” too, causing significant “damage to critical ecosystems,” according to a report by the United Nations.
“…threats could often arise due to socioeconomic changes, such as human population displacement or the disruption of market economies, resulting from the conflict,” according to Mendiratta.
Yet, the impact of armed conflict on the survival of different species — 70% of which are endangered — is often underrepresented in policy decisions on the conservation of biodiversity, Mendiratta says. She believes that the “next step” is to recognize the direct and indirect threats of armed conflicts on fauna, and accordingly, design measures to safeguard them.
“While gunfire and landmines are perhaps the most visible direct threats to wildlife, the more insidious threats arising from the displacement of human populations and disruption of socio-economic institutions in conflict regions should not be ignored,” Mendiratta notes.