Unrests threaten gorillas, 200 endangered species: conservationists

Geneva, Switzerland: Civil unrest and military drills endanger over 200 threatened species, including elephant populations and the critically endangered Eastern gorilla, conservationists said on Wednesday.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature published a study on the close relationship between the environment and armed conflict, warning that human aggression and instability are wreaking havoc on nature.

The study emphasized that sustainable natural resource management should be viewed as a method to aid in the preservation of 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.

Armed conflicts were found to be particularly prevalent in some of the world's most bio-diverse areas, according to the study.

According to the IUCN, 219 endangered species face threats from "war, civil strife, and military drills," including the direct killing of animals, habitat destruction, and disruption of conservation efforts.

Although this is only a small portion of the more than 30,000 animal and plant species identified as endangered on the IUCN Red List, the study emphasized that it included "iconic species."

The critically endangered Eastern gorilla, located in the conflict-prone Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, is one of them.

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According to IUCN chief scientist Thomas Brooks, one of the threats to the world's largest living primate is "direct killing, often for target practice, sometimes for food."

But, he told AFP, the greater danger that conflicts posed to the species was the "undermining of conservation efforts."

Increased conflict risk 

The study highlighted the drastic effect of conflicts on a variety of species.

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

It also cited a study from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime suggesting that Sudanese militia is responsible for the deaths of over 2,000 elephants in the Central African Republic alone in 2007.

The Vietnam War "almost certainly exacerbated the slide into extinction" of the Javan rhinoceros, according to the paper, as the Viet Cong shot them to supplement a meager diet.

"There is no question that conflict does have increased species extinction risk," Brooks said.

Around the same time, the study discovered that environmental deterioration was linked to an increased risk of conflict.

Looking at more than 85,000 armed conflict incidents over the last 30 years that have resulted in the deaths of more than two million people, the study discovered that they are more likely to erupt where there is less fertile agricultural land available and where droughts are common.

"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.

According to the study, armed conflict incidents, described as organized actors utilizing armed force that results in death, have increased significantly in recent decades.

'Environmental war crimes' 

Today, over 7,000 such incidents occur each year, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as 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.

Meanwhile, the study discovered that disputes were less common within the borders of nature reserves and other protected areas.

These areas occupy an estimated 15% of the land but coincide with just 3% of the armed conflict incidents examined in the study.

"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.

"It supports livelihoods and well-being of indigenous and local communities in times of peace and helps reduce the risk of conflicts breaking out," she added.

The report included policy recommendations for reducing and preventing armed conflicts, such as ensuring protections for protected area personnel, environmental defenders, and other conservationists.

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

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