Conservation ConversationsWildlife



Armed Conflicts pose a significant but under-recognised threat to thousands of mammals and bird species, according to a new study published in the journal, Conservation Letters. Scientists found that conflicts between 1989-2018 occurred within at least 4291 terrestrial mammals and 9056 bird species and these conflicts have led to wildlife population declines across the world.

The study was conducted by researchers from Wildlife Conservation Society-India (WCS-India), Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), and Panthrea. This was done by analysing maps of regions of armed conflicts, species geographical range maps, and information on conservation threats to terrestrial mammal and bird species across the world.

Direct threat to certain species is likely when African Elephants were been hunted for meat and ivory (potentially to fund terror groups) by conflicting parties in Mali and Congo. Further, the Eastern Lowland Gorillas were killed by Landmines in Rwanda. Habitat loss and degradation during conflicts are common and even after their cessation.

The authors overlaid species range maps and conflict maps to find out the number of mammal and bird species having geographic overlap with conflict over the 30-year period. They found that the geographical ranges of at least 4,291 mammal and 9,056 bird species overlap with regions that experienced armed conflicts during this period. About one-fifth of these species showed widespread overlap with conflict, meaning that conflicts extended over at least half of their geographic ranges. 

For around 225 mammal and 390 bird species, conflicts were not just widespread, but also persisted over 15 years or more.


The authors of this study also extracted information on species population trends and conservation threats from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and examined relationships between population trends, conservation threats, and species geographical overlap with armed conflicts. They found that overlap with conflict was closely associated with population declines, particularly for species recognised by the IUCN as being at risk of extinction. 


They also found that species overlapping with armed conflicts were more likely to face threats from hunting, deforestation, and various forms of habitat degradation.

According to Uttara Mendiratta, lead author and Head of Counter-wildlife Trafficking at WCS-India, the findings call for greater recognition of the armed conflict threat to wild species. She adds, “In agreement with our findings, the IUCN independently just published a report referring to armed conflicts as an under-recognised threat to biodiversity. So hopefully a re-examination of species conservation assessments with closer attention to threats from conflict would follow.”


Results of the study also underscore the importance of viewing conflict not as a single threat but instead one that could potentially lead to or intensify various other threats to wildlife. “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,” says Mendiratta.

Lead author Mendiratta and other authors – Anand M Osuri, Sarthak J Shetty and Abishek Harihar emphasised that the range of direct and indirect threats would need to be understood and addressed at multiple levels for effectively conserving species affected by armed conflicts.  

(Image credit for Eastern Lowland Gorilla: Joe McKenna, San Diego, California and Dead African Elephant, Bernard Dupont, France – Wikimedia Commons)