When Humans War, Animals Die


In 1977, two years after declaring independence from Portugal, Mozambique erupted into civil war. Over the next 15 years, the violent conflict claimed at least a million lives—and that was just the humans.

Government troops and resistance fighters also slaughtered their way through the wildlife in the nation’s renowned Gorongosa National Park, once touted as a natural paradise. Thousands of elephants were hunted for their ivory, which was sold to buy arms and supplies. Zebras, wildebeest, and buffalo were killed for meat. Around 90 percent of the park’s large mammals were shot or died of starvation.

“They caused almost total collapse of the wildlife there,” says Joshua Daskin, an ecologist at Yale University who started working at Gorongosa in 2013.* “I wondered if that was a one-off, or emblematic of a wider trend.”

Spoiler: it’s the latter. Together with Rob Pringle, from Princeton University, Daskin compiled 65 years’ worth of data on the abundance of large mammals across all of Africa. These populations, they found, were stable during peacetime, but almost always fell during periods of war. And in explaining declines in wildlife, nothing mattered more than war—not human population density, the presence of towns or cities, protected reserves, or droughts.

“This speaks to the pervasive nature of conflict,” says Daskin. “It affects the ability, accountability, and motivation of governments to fulfil their conservation duties. It disturbs the fabric of local societies by increasing poverty, and displacing people into protected areas where they may harvest wildlife. It leads to withdrawal of NGOs. It increases problems with law enforcement, which might lead to increases in poaching.” 01-10-18

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