Study finds wildlife populations depleted in areas where human conflict is present

Jan. 10, 2018

War has been a consistent factor in the decades-long decline of large mammals in Africa, a Princeton study has found. In fact, wildlife populations that were stable in peaceful areas needed only a slight increase in conflict frequency to begin a downward spiral, the researchers reported.

More than 70% of Africa’s protected areas were touched by war between 1946 and 2010. Elephants, hippos, giraffes and other large mammals were killed en masse as combatants and hungry civilians hunted for food and for marketable commodities such as ivory. A primary reason for the animals’ decline, however, appears to be the accompanying socioeconomic impact of human conflict, which degrades institutional capacity for biodiversity conservation or the collective societal ability to prioritize and pay for it.

The researchers discovered that while wildlife populations declined in conflict areas, they rarely collapsed to the point where recovery was impossible. Even those protected areas most severely affected by conflict remain promising candidates for conservation and rehabilitation efforts.

Previous studies have found both positive and negative effects of human conflict on biodiversity in Africa and elsewhere, but the overall net effect had never before been measured.

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