Given that war and wildlife have been such constant companions it is surprising how little is known about the causal linkage between the two. However, these areas concern The Marjan Centre and for the present the phrase ‘conflict and conservation’ seems perfectly suitable.
The omission of linking ‘conflict’ and ‘conservation’ received a purposeful nudge in early 2009 with the publication of a paper ‘Warfare in Biodiversity Hotspots’, the joint-authors reading like a ‘dream team’ of biodiversity experts, from Professor Gary Machlis to Dr Thor Hanson and Dr Russell Mittermeier, president of the Conservation International juggernaut.
The paper drew attention to what ‘the team’ saw as a curious coincidence of warfare in areas of high biodiversity content: in itself the revelation was nothing startling given the well-known role of resources in wars (‘resource wars’), but nobody had drawn attention to the fact in such stark terms and the paper generated a lot of publicity.
Since then ‘conflict and conservation’ has moved along, stimulated in no small part by better data-gathering of species ‘at risk’ and the escalating crisis in the wildlife trade (both illegal and legal), most conspicuously the wider ramifications of the rhino horn trade.
Now Marjan Centre colleagues, MLR Smith (Professor Michael Rainsborough) and Saskia Rotshuizen have suggested that the protection of wildlife should be incorporated in post-conflict rebuilding.
‘Long-term peace building is, to a considerable degree, dependent on rehabilitating political and economic stability. In the case of many war-stricken African countries, the local economy is heavily reliant on wildlife and natural resources’, they wrote in a recent paper ‘Of warriors, poachers and peacekeepers: Protecting wildlife after conflict’.
The study identifies three main war-related processes that impact on wildlife in the immediate aftermath of conflict and which can stimulate further violence and instability: poaching, population displacement and the impact of aid and conservation measures. Furthermore in conditions of minimal or non-existent wildlife protection, two new dimensions of conflict can emerge: between park rangers and poachers and between refugees and the local population, say the authors.
‘ Unable to counter well-equipped poaching groups through traditional patrolling methods, park guards have increasingly used coercive means to combat poaching gangs. The move towards the employment of such tactics has led to what has been called the militarisation of wildlife protection. In the case of the GorongosaNational Park in Mozambique, former soldiers were recruited as game park guards because their skills as soldiers were adequate to fight illegal hunting effectively’.
Protecting wildlife provides an opportunity to encourage communication among formerly conflicting parties, and ultimately educating people on the importance of protecting wildlife is a crucial element in building sustainable peace, say the authors. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre
Link: ‘Of warriors, poachers and peacekeepers: Protecting wildlife after conflict’. http://cac.sagepub.com/content/48/4/502