War and the Effect on Wildlife

http://www.ourendangeredworld.com/war-effect-wildlife/

By Jenny Griffin

Human conflict throughout the world can often result in wars that cause large-scale economic and social disruption, as well as immense suffering and loss of human life. But the impact is not limited to the effect on human populations living in the war-zone.
Its impact spreads broader, often impacting the natural environment and the wildlife that inhabits these areas, ultimately with dire consequences for wildlife conservation, biodiversity, and for the livelihoods of human communities that depend on these natural resources.

The negative impact that war has on the environment and wildlife is typically fuelled by a number of factors, including:

    •A breakdown in law and order, together with disruption of agricultural production and economic trade leads to a lack of income opportunities as a result;
    •A growing dependence on natural resources and wildlife (eg. wood for cooking, wildlife for food) due to lack of other options;
    •An increase in human movement through natural protected areas as a result of a mass exodus of refugees fleeing war torn areas or an insurgency of militants, all of whom require food and shelter;
    •An abundance of trigger happy militia armed with high powered automatic weapons and firearms makes unarmed wildlife an easy target and that much more vulnerable.

War can impact wildlife in several ways:
1) by destroying vital habitat that wildlife needs to survive;
2) by over-exploiting natural resources, including wildlife; and
3) pollution can have both short-term and long-term impacts on the environment and wildlife.

Habitat Destruction

Natural vegetation is often cleared to allow troops to either move through an area more easily or to improve visibility so that they are able to detect approaching enemy forces. Masses of displaced people living in temporary settlements can result in erosion and deforestation. Wildlife reserves and other natural protected areas are particularly vulnerable as they are very often situated on international borders and offer an abundance of natural resources and cover. Habitat destruction can threaten vulnerable species – especially those with limited ranges – and even cause them to become locally extinct.

Over-Exploitation of Natural Resources

Deforestation

Deforestation by World Bank Photo Collection

Over-exploitation of natural resources can occur as a result of subsistence use of resources or commercial exploitation of resources. Wars typically leave countries in a state of upheaval and as a result, local rural communities are very often unable to cultivate food crops during wartime, having to turn to wild plant foods and bush meat as an alternative food source to meet their nutritional needs in order to survive. Displaced people often harvest wildlife while they are living away from home, but may continue to do so after they return to their communities, as other sources of food may still be non-existent for some time.

In combat areas hunting of wildlife generally occurs on a grand scale – with larger animals be targeted more frequently – in order to provide food for military troops. As many large animals, such as the critically endangered mountain gorilla, have complex social hierarchies and slow reproductive rates, when animals are killed at a rate that exceeds their ability to reproduce it can devastate wildlife populations.

Commercial exploitation and illegal trade of natural resources such as diamonds and timber, and poached ivory and rhino horn is often undertaken to fund military operations, weapons and ammunition. Exploiting commercially lucrative resources with a readily available source of weapons fuels a vicious cycle that allows armed militia to control the area, natural resources and their network of illegal trade operations. The proliferation in weapons, notably high-powered automatic rifles that are far more effective at killing larger game than traditional spears, often results in a rapid escalation in the slaughtering of wildlife for the bushmeat trade.

Pollution

The environment can be polluted directly as a result of conflict, or may occur indirectly as a result of human activities in sensitive areas. The Persian Gulf War saw massive amounts of oil being deliberately dumped into Persian Gulf in efforts to prevent troops from coming ashore. As the war progressed, oil wells in Kuwait were set alight by fleeing Iraqi soldiers. The resulting oil pollution and atmospheric pollution had severe environmental consequences, severely impacting local wildlife, especially marine life and seabirds. Spraying of the herbicide Agent Orange in Indochina in efforts to defoliate vegetation during the Vietnam War resulted in toxic pollutants contaminating the vegetation, soil and water, with dire consequences for both the environment and the wildlife and human populations living in these areas.

Pollution can also occur indirectly as a result of war. For example, surface water and ground water sources may become contaminated when large groups of displaced people are forced to settle in temporary refugee camps that lack adequate sanitation and where waste is allowed to accumulate due to lack of services. This can result in nutrient enrichment of water bodies, leading to low oxygen levels and fish die-offs, and can also cause disease outbreaks to spread rapidly amongst humans living in cramped, unsanitary conditions, with little or no access to medical care or medicines. Some diseases can also be passed on to wildlife with devastating effects.

[Thanks to Rosemary for the link,]

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10 thoughts on “War and the Effect on Wildlife

  1. Excellent article. Animal destruction is not included in war casualties.

    War is also hard on domestic animals. One international group–I think it was Four Paws–went into Gaza to help the animals after the bombings. They had terrible pictures of dead, dying, and crippled animals. Of course, they weren’t getting help or medical attention, at least not soon.

    The “Hurt Locker” had one especially beat-up looking and limping cat trying to escape the chaos. Sad.

  2. Thanks so much, Jim! As many now beat the War Drums to expand our wars in the Middle East, those of us who are aware of what wars do to other lives, must continue to get this information out! I’ve been reading a true account of a young Jewish girl, who alone (after her family was “deported” to a concentration camp), survived by her wits, and because she did “not look like a Jew.” The account of her 5-year struggle for survival, mentions the horses, cows, killed, forests, burned as the countryside was leveled. What happened to the wild animals as well? They just disappeared, many crawling off to die. The toll on The Wild was enormous.

  3. The very nature of war, which is about indiscriminate destruction, obviously will have negative environmental impacts, directly and indirectly. Need to find out whether there are any clauses in the Geneva convention that discusses environmental damages.

    • Hello, Venkatasamy! Thank you for your suggestion regarding the Geneva Conventions. There are several links. Here are a few.
      https://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/2094600

      http://www.toxicremnantsofwar.info/whatever-happened-to-the-5th-geneva-convention/

      Protocol I
      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protocol_I

      Protocol I is a 1977 amendment protocol to the Geneva Conventions relating to the protection of victims of international conflicts, where “armed conflicts in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination, alien occupation or racist regimes” are to be considered international conflicts.[1] It reaffirms the international laws of the original Geneva Conventions of 1949, but adds clarifications and new provisions to accommodate developments in modern international warfare that have taken place since the Second World War.
      As of June 2013, it had been ratified by 174 states,[2] with the United States, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, India, and Turkey being notable exceptions. However, the United States, Iran, and Pakistan signed it on 12 December 1977, which signifies an intention to work towards ratifying it.

    • Interesting read on the connections between wars, climate change and increasing desertification (grazing is large factor as well. Wild flora and fauna cannot survive in this scenario.

      http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5173

      Desertification as a Source of Conflict in Darfur
      In Sudan’s Darfur region, brutal scorched-earth tactics by nomadic militias and government army units have killed at least 200,000 people and forced 2.5 million out of their homes since 2003. Stopping the mass violence has become a rallying cry for many who argue that there is a need for “humanitarian intervention.” The ENOUGH Project, for instance, calls for an approach that mixes peacemaking, protection, and punishment of perpetrators of mass violence. In contrast to such sweeping demands, however, negotiations have focused on shoring up a weak African Union mission by deploying a “hybrid” African Union/United Nations peacekeeping force.

      While Darfur shows the limits of current peacekeeping and humanitarian policy, it is also becoming clear that the roots of conflict are not found in the often-repeated claim of simplistic “ethnic hatreds.” To a considerable extent, the conflict there is the result of a slow-onset disaster—creeping desertification and severe droughts that have led to food insecurity and sporadic famine, as well as growing competition for land and water. The “Sudan Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment”—a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)—argues that severe environmental degradation is among the root causes of the conflict. The 354–page study includes the following findings:

      Deserts have spread southwards by an average of 100 kilometers over the past four decades.
      Land degradation is linked with overgrazing of fragile soils. The number of livestock has exploded from close to 27 million animals to around 135 million.
      A “deforestation crisis” has led to a loss of almost 12 percent of Sudan’s forest cover in just 15 years, and some areas may lose their remaining forest cover within the next decade.
      Declining and highly irregular patterns of rainfall in parts of the country—particularly in Kordofan and Darfur states—provides mounting evidence of long-term regional climate change. In Northern Darfur, precipitation has fallen by a third in the past 80 years.

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