Gorilla among over 200 endangered species threatened by conflict: conservationists

Geneva (AFP) –


Civil unrest and military exercises pose heightened risk to more than 200 threatened species, including elephant populations and the critically-endangered Eastern gorilla, conservationists warned Wednesday.

A report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature examined the close interplay between the environment and armed conflict, warning that human violence and unrest were taking a devastating toll on nature.

Highlighting how nature degradation spurs strife, the report also stressed that the sustainable management of natural resources should be seen as a tool to help preserve peace.

"Degradation of nature increases the likelihood of conflict, while wars devastate not only lives, but also the natural environment," IUCN director general Bruno Oberle said in a statement.

The report, the first in a series looking at nature in a globalised world, found that armed conflicts were particularly prevalent in some of the world's more bio-diverse regions.

IUCN said that 219 endangered species were facing threats from "war, civil unrest and military exercises", including the direct killing of wildlife, degradation of ecosystems and the disruption of conservation efforts.

While this is only a fraction of the over 30,000 animal and plant species listed as threatened on IUCN's Red List, the report stressed it included "iconic species" like the critically-endangered Eastern gorilla, found in conflict-prone Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.

- Nature degradation hikes conflict risk -

The report pointed to the dramatic impact on a range of species from conflicts.

During the 1994 war in Rwanda for instance, 90 percent of the large mammals in the Akagara National Park were killed for food or trade, it said, with the genocide sending thousands of people fleeing through protected areas, killing animals for food and clearing trees along the way.

It also highlighted the drawn-out conflict in Sudan, pointing out that Sudanese militia were responsible for the deaths of 2,000 elephants in 2007 alone.

At the same time, the report found that degradation of nature was associated with increased risk of conflict.

Looking at more than 85,000 armed conflict events over the past 30 years, which have been responsible for the deaths of more than two million people, the report determined they more likely to erupt where there is less productive agricultural land available and when droughts are frequent.

"These findings suggest that conservation, restoration and sustainable management of natural resources can help reduce the pressures that drive conflict by improving the condition and productivity of the landscape," IUCN chief economist Juha Siikamaki said in the statement.

The report pointed to research showing that armed conflict events, defined as incidents where organised actors use armed force resulting in death, have increased significantly in recent decades.

- 'Environmental war crimes' -

Today, there are more than 7,000 such events each year, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and in West and South Asia.

"As environmental degradation and climate change intensify, it is becoming increasingly important to factor in the links between conflict and nature when formulating security, development and environmental policy," Siikamaki said.

The report meanwhile found that conflicts were less frequent within the boundaries of natural reserves and other protected areas.

Such areas cover an estimated 15 percent of land, but overlap with only three percent of the armed conflict events analysed by the report.

"Conservation, sustainable and equitable management of nature plays an important role in preventing conflict and in rebuilding peace," said Kristen Walker, who chairs the IUCN commission on environmental, economic and social policy.

Among other things, she pointed out, "it supports livelihoods and wellbeing of indigenous and local communities in times of peace and helps reduce the risk of conflicts breaking out."

The report listed policy recommendations to mitigate and prevent armed conflict, including establishing safeguards for staff in protected areas, environmental defenders and other conservationists.

It also called for "sanctions against those who commit environmental war crimes."