Effect of war on wildlife

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During the last 50 years most wars have been waged in places that shelter some of the most biologically diverse and environmentally threatened wildlife on Earth. Examples of the nature-conflict connection include the Vietnam War, where the poisonous Agent Orange destroyed forest cover and coastal mangroves, and timber harvesting that funded war chests in Liberia, Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A new term slipped into the military lexicon: ecocide.


Why should I be aware of this?

A new study reported that 81 percent of major armed conflicts from 1950 to 2000 happened in regions known as biodiversity hot spots, which contain the entire populations of more than half of all plant species and at least 42 percent of all vertebrates. [1] Titled "Warfare in Biodiversity Hotspots", the study by leading international conservation scientists, compared major conflict zones with the earth's 34 biodiversity hotspots identified by Conservation International (CI). A total of 23 of the 34 hot spots saw warfare in the second half of the 20th century.

Moreover, hunting for food by war refugees in and around biodiversity hot spots, cutting trees for firewood and building camps in these endangered environments, add to the problem.

All about effect of war on wildlife

More than 90 percent of major wars which caused more than 1,000 deaths took place in countries that contain one of the 34 identified hot spots. These centers of endangered wildlife often are located in poor countries with dense human populations, which put pressure on the natural and political environment in normal times

Apart from wildlife destruction the lives of millions of the world's poorest people living in these hotspots are jeopardized as they depend on healthy ecosystems for their survival.

Millions more animals die from the causes of war than humans. In the Afghan war during the 1990's, more than 75,000 animals were lost due to mines - that's over half of all animal livestock in Afghanistan.

Bombing in Afghanistan

As a result of two decades of bombing in Afghanistan very few snow leopards, are left today. Only 3,500 of these highly endangered cats are left in the world, and experts estimate that there could be less than 100 left in Afghanistan.

For thousands of migrating birds that depend on rest and feeding areas in Afghanistan, the timing of the heaviest American bombing in fall 2001 could not have been worse. The effects of drought and environmental devastation will challenge the country for years to come.

During the American bombing runs in Afghanistan during 2001/2 the Siberian Cranes and tens of thousands of ducks and other birds were disturbed during their migration. Now, entire bird populations have since gone missing across the entire Afghan and Pakistan region, which is a major migratory route for many species.

Fighting in Africa

As a result of fighting between warring factions in Africa's Virunga Mountains, 15 mountain gorillas died in the past several years. Despite these losses, this closely monitored population has increased its numbers since 1989. But their lowland cousins in the Democratic Repubic of Congo are taking heavy losses along with other endangered species, as soldiers hunt them for bushmeat to eat and sell. Thousands of elephants have been slaughtered and their meat and ivory sold to finance the fighting.

In Kuwait after Saddam Hussein deliberately dumped oil into the sea during the last Gulf conflict, more than 30,000 birds were killed and destroying coral reefs and other marine animals destroyed.

Killed by landmines

Ten or twenty times more animals are killed and maimed than humans from landmines every single day. Unlike humans they can’t take precautions and, both wild and farmed animals, roam free across the danger areas under the constant threat of being blown up.

In the pre "9/11" Afghan war during the 90's, Afghans suffered a total loss of more than 75,000 animals due to mines ... more than 50% of the total number of livestock.


  • As far as 3 BC, Hannibal used elephants to help him in his campaigns. [2]
  • In World War I, horses were used to transport goods, cats were kept in trencehs to hunt for mice and pigeons were kept to carry messages between ships and sea. [2]
  • During the Gulf War, at Kuwait National Park, nearly 400 animals were killed by Iraqi soldiers or died suffering from starvation or injuries.
  • At least 70 dolphins and 20 sea lions have been trained and employed by the US Government for warfare. They were in the frontline in the recent Iraqi conflict, unknowingly risking their lives for the troops. [2]
  • Dolphins, referred to by the military as ‘Advanced Biological Weapons Systems’, have been used by the US military to search for mines since Vietnam. They were also put on the task of putting shipping lanes free in the Gulf. [2]

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Additional information


  • Most wars hit world's rich wildlife areas
  • The winds of war - Animals Talk - effect of war on wildlife
  • Animals in War


  1. The Economic Times
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Animalaid.org.uk