African Reserves

War and Fauna | Herald of the Deccan

The world is facing a looming mega-extinction. The wild animal population fell 68% between 1970 and 2016. In developed countries, these extinction trends are even greater. In the 50 years since 1970, the tropical ecozone of the United States experienced a 94% decline in wildlife population. Some 80 percent of the world’s species live in just 6 percent of the world’s land area – tropical rainforests. But the world lost 0.1 billion hectares of tropical forests between 1980 and 2000. Illegal wildlife trade, land conversions for agriculture, palm cultivation, animal husbandry are some of the factors. main causes of this condition. Another major reason for these extinctions is the impact of wars on wildlife and wildlife conservation.

Since the 1950s, 80% of world wars have taken place in its biodiversity hotspots. Most of the tropical rainforests are scattered across Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia. This whole region has seen intense wars and conflicts that make it difficult for international organizations to insist on conservation values. It also increases the risk of poaching and illegal trade in wildlife parts.

Between 1946 and 2010, 71% of conserved areas in Africa were affected by war. According to a study published in Nature, conflict has been one of the main reasons for the wildlife crisis in Africa.

The civil war in Mozambique (1977-1992) left an estimated one million dead. It has also been detrimental to wildlife conservation efforts in Mozambique. During this war, rebel and government forces used Gorongosa National Park as a base of operations. The park was home to a unique fauna of the savannah: zebras, wildebeest, dik-dik, elephants and lions. But that war saw a 95 percent reduction in wild animal populations. These populations were hunted to near extinction in the quest for poaching to raise money for the war. Even after decades since the end of the war and dedicated conservation efforts, Gorongosa’s wildlife population has not been restored.

During the Rawandan Civil War (1994), around 90 percent of the large mammals in Akagara National Park were killed. Among them are the timid mountain gorillas. This conflict has displaced an estimated seven million people. Of these, around 860,000 people took refuge in Virunga National Park while 332,000 resided near Kahuzi Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This had negative consequences on the fauna of these reserves. The civil war was responsible for the deaths of around 2,000 elephants in the Central African Republic in 2007. The Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005) resulted in the reduction of the elephant population of Sudan from 100,000 to just 5,000.

Similar situations echo throughout the rainforest belt of Southeast Asia. The Vietnam Wars (1955-75) resulted in extensive poaching of the Java rhino. This species is on the verge of extinction and is designated “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN. This war witnessed the use of a chemical weapon – Agent Orange. It was sprayed through the rainforest of Southeast Asia to destroy the forest canopy. This has resulted in the deaths of tigers, Asian elephants, gibbons, civets and leopards residing in this region.

Political instability in Myanmar makes the country a hub for the entry of illegal wildlife trade products into Chinese markets. This indirectly fuels poaching of wildlife around the world to help supply demands for “Chinese medicine”.

The Iraq-Iran War (1980-88) led to the disappearance of entire populations of wolves, otters, pelicans, striped hyenas, river dolphins across the Middle East.

The Latin American state of Venezuela is in socio-economic crisis. Fueled by the hydrocarbons under its soil, the country is in a state of anarchy. Located north of the Amazon rainforest, it is a warning to the nation’s unique biodiversity. If the crisis spills over from its border to neighboring Brazil, it can turn into a natural disaster. Already, the Brazilian government, oblivious to the environment, is letting the unique Amazon rainforest turn into cropland and ranches. In the event of conflict, the situation can become even more dire for endangered South American wildlife.

International interventions are needed to protect wildlife during times of political instability in a country. In situ conservation is part of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The conservation requirements by area are valid even during conflicts. The UNESCO World Heritage Convention also contains provisions for the protection of areas conserved during wars. In 1995, a draft convention on the prohibition of hostile military activities in protected areas was drawn up by the International Council for Environmental Law and the Commission for Environmental Law of the International Union for the Conservation of nature. But that never materialized in an international treaty.

Wars and conflicts are as dangerous for wildlife as they are for humans. In order to save wildlife populations from a human-induced mega-extinction, all international organizations must unite their efforts to conserve wildlife. A peaceful existence is good for conservation efforts and for saving the planet from the fury of climate change, global warming and the extinction of wildlife.

(The authors are respectively associate professor and dean of the Jindal School of Environment and Sustainability, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana)

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