A few days ago a study about the effects of wars and armed conflicts on “wild” animal population, was published in Nature magazine.
The goal of the study was to examine to what extent do wars and armed conflicts reduce “wild” animal populations in comparison to other factors.
The research team analyzed 253 populations of 36 large herbivorous mammals (large mammals are considered “keystone species,” meaning they are indicators of their ecosystem’s condition), across 126 protected preserves in 19 African nations, between 1946 and 2010.
The results are that frequent armed conflicts are the most important factor explaining the trends in wildlife populations relative to all other factors they looked at, or in other words, as the number of conflicts increased, wildlife populations declined.
The researchers’ conclusion sounds totally obvious. What we find interesting is one of their work premises which is that it’s hard to conclude whether wars have positive or negative effects on “wild” animal population. The fact that there was even a need for this kind of research is what we found interesting and important.
The effect is supposed to be obvious. Wars and armed conflicts decrease animals’ population in several ways, many are obvious or easy to assume, while others are less intuitive. The main ones are: land mines and bombs which are aimed to kill humans but kill animals, many animals being displaced from their natural habitat by humans seeking shelter, armed groups who often finance their military activity by poaching animals like elephants and rhinos for their ivory and horns, humans who often intentionally and systematically burn forests or spray them with herbicides to deny cover and sanctuary from the humans they fight (and of course the animals living in these forests are the first to get hurt), the breakdown of institutions during armed conflict which leads to increased rates of deforestation and forest fragmentation as well as decreased rates of wildlife protections.
However it is not at all obvious as on the other hand, conflicts reduce animal oppression by moving people away from conflict zones. During armed conflicts habitat destruction, poaching and extractive industries like mining, are slowed and even stopped. So all in all the overall effect of wars on “wild” animal population is uncertain.
As the research’s co-author Robert Pringle said: “anything that causes people to vacate can be a beneficial thing for nonhuman wildlife”.
Thinking about it, despite the first intuition, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but on the contrary. Humans are on a unilateral war against animals all the time. When humans fight other humans, animals are significantly hurt in various ways, but since “peacetime” is so violent to animals, some of them in some areas, gain from humans’ armed conflicts as it reduces the violent and oppressive routine activity of humans.
And so a rather counterintuitive situation is created, where the most dangerous areas for humans become in some cases, the safest for nonhumans, as animals’ greatest threat is humans in any case.
Animals’ routine is so horrible that wars between humans are at least for some animals, at least in some places, a temporary truce.
This research is a reminder that animals’ routine is a constant war. And of course it only regards “wild” animals. When it comes to “farm” animals, it is not a war, it is eternal hell.