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Devin D. Thorpe

Devin Thorpe

Human Conflicts Driving Large-Scale Wildlife Declines Across The Sahara-Sahel

Study co-authored by ZSL reveals significant drop in populations of large land animals

Press Release – A recent surge in armed conflicts across Africa’s arid Sahara-Sahel region is having a catastrophic impact on the region’s wildlife, with many species, including the African elephant, suffering dramatic losses, reveals a new study co-authored by international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London).

The continent-spanning region has experienced a considerable increase in human conflicts since 2011, driven largely by the growing activities of extremist groups. The study, led by Portuguese research centre CIBIO-InBIO and published in scientific journal Conservation Letters this week, catalogues the disastrous impact this upturn in violence has had on indigenous ‘megafauna’ (or large land animals).

Ongoing struggles for control over territory have expanded into remote areas that had previously provided precious refuges for wildlife. Alongside the easy accessibility of firearms, this increased human penetration has resulted in a sharp rise in illegal killings of animals for their meat or for sport, as well as other illegal activities including trafficking. Across much of the Sahara-Sahel, particularly in southern regions where conflicts have persisted longest, megafauna have now been almost completely wiped out.

The research uses detailed case studies of three key species: the dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas), addax antelope (Addax nasomaculatus) and African elephant (Loxodonta africana), to show how escalating conflict contributes to wildlife population decline and increased killings. The rise in armed conflict is also shown to be a key contributing factor in the declining numbers of a further 7 species assessed by the study.

Escalating conflict joins a growing list of human activities driving wildlife population decline across the Sahara-Sahel in recent years, including mining, agriculture and large scale infrastructure development. Together, these developments have left iconic wildlife species with fewer and fewer safe havens across the region.

Co-author Dr Sarah Durant from ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, a global authority on cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) which also feature in the study, said: “As if the harsh, arid landscape isn’t enough, the growth of armed conflict in the Sahara-Sahel region is yet another serious threat that wildlife in this critical region now have to contend with.

“Cheetahs, in their position at the top of the food chain, are particularly vulnerable to the multiple threats in the region. Unless prompt action is taken, the unique biodiversity of the Sahara-Sahel could be lost forever.”

Lead author José Carlos Brito, a researcher at CIBIO-InBIO said: “The recent increase in armed conflicts emphasizes the need to identify areas where wildlife is declining and to develop effective policies to reduce the impacts of these conflicts on biodiversity.”

The authors identify interventions that can help safeguard wildlife through periods of instability, and call on the international community to help communities protect their natural resources and livelihoods at times of conflict. The report also calls for meaningful financial penalties to be imposed on extractive industries that do not abide by conservation guidelines.

The Sahara-Sahel includes areas of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan and Tunisia. The region has seen a 565 per cent increase in conflicts since 2011, and accounts for an estimated 5 per cent of current global conflicts. These include a rise in conflicts following the fragmentation of Libya since the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, as well as ongoing attacks by extremist groups such as Boko Haram and AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb).

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