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How Does War Affect Animals?

War is devastating for any being involved, but one thing that has a compound impact is animals. So, how does war affect animals? What is the everlasting impact of war?

Animals are not just innocent bystanders when it comes to war, they are also victims who sometimes pay the ultimate price. It is important to know how these animals fare during the war so that we can take measures to protect them in the future.

Animals in combat zones often become collateral damage for battles between troops or between opposing forces. Some of these animals include wild boars, birds, snakes, and other reptiles.

These animals may be killed by human error or because they were used as a target by soldiers on both sides of the conflict.

Animals may also find themselves caught up in land mines left behind after battles have ended and this can lead to their death long after the fighting has ceased.

How Armed Conflict Affects Wildlife Populations

When it comes to how war affects animals, there are many different ways to look at how it impacts them. Animals are seen as collateral damage or even targets in war zones.

Habitat Destruction

Cruel war scenes, digital painting,3D illustration.

Natural vegetation is often cleared to allow troops to either move through an area more easily or to improve visibility so that they can detect approaching enemy forces that have an effect on wildlife.

Deforestation and erosion may occur as a result of widespread migration.

Many international borders exist in the desert, which makes natural protected areas like wildlife refuges and other natural protected areas particularly vulnerable.

Because they provide a wealth of natural resources and cover, many international boundaries exist in the desert, making natural protected areas like wildlife refuges and other natural protected areas particularly vulnerable. Habitat loss may endanger species that are already threatened, such as the elephant.

In war-torn areas, living conditions deteriorate and people may resort to hunting wild animals for meat or selling their skins for revenue instead of letting them rot. Poachers also kill wildlife for profit. In Rwanda, more than 500 mountain gorillas have been poached since the genocide in 1994.

See Related: How To Be An Environmentalist

Over-Exploitation of Natural Resources

Tanks and planes rush into battle on besieged burning land.

Over-exploitation of natural resources can occur as a result of subsistence use of resources or commercial exploitation of resources.

Wars typically result in the destruction of local rural communities, leaving them unable to grow food crops during wartime because they must turn to wild plant foods and bush meat as substitute food sources to meet their nutritional requirements.

Displaced people often harvest wildlife while they are living away from home, but may continue to do so after they return to their communities, as other sources of food may still be non-existent for some time.

In combat areas hunting of wildlife generally occurs on a grand scale – with larger animals being targeted more frequently – to provide food for military troops.

As many large animals, such as the critically endangered mountain gorilla, have complex social hierarchies and slow reproductive rates when animals are killed at a rate that exceeds their ability to reproduce it can devastate wildlife populations.

Commercial exploitation and illegal trade of natural resources such as diamonds and timber, and poached ivory and rhino horn are often undertaken to fund military operations, weapons and ammunition.

Exploiting lucrative supplies with a readily accessible supply of weapons creates a vicious cycle that allows armed militias to dominate the region, natural resources, and their illicit trade networks.

The proliferation of weapons, notably high-powered automatic rifles that are far more effective at killing larger game than traditional spears, often results in a rapid escalation in the slaughtering of wildlife for the bushmeat trade.

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 The war in the Near East, combat actions

Pollution may occur directly as a consequence of warfare or indirectly as a result of human activities in sensitive areas.

The Persian Gulf War saw massive amounts of oil being deliberately dumped into the Persian Gulf in effort to prevent troops from coming ashore. As the war progressed, oil wells in Kuwait were set alight by fleeing Iraqi soldiers.

The resulting oil pollution and atmospheric pollution had severe environmental consequences, severely impacting local wildlife, especially marine life and seabirds.

Spraying of the herbicide Agent Orange in Indochina in efforts to defoliate vegetation during the Vietnam War resulted in toxic pollutants contaminating the vegetation, soil, and water, with dire consequences for both the environment and the wildlife and human populations living in these areas.

Pollution can also occur indirectly as a result of war. For example, surface water and groundwater sources may become contaminated when large groups of displaced people are forced to settle in temporary refugee camps that lack adequate sanitation and where waste is allowed to accumulate due to lack of services.

Water bodies can become nutrient-rich as a result of overfishing, which promotes anaerobic conditions and fish mortality.

Additionally, pandemic infection is more likely to spread rapidly among people living in cramped, unsanitary circumstances with little or no access to medical care or medicine.

Some illnesses may also be transferred to animals, resulting in significant damage to ecosystems.

What factors affect wildlife populations in conflict zones?

Fire fighting helicopter carry water bucket to extinguish the forest fire

It is important to understand how limiting factors such as food, water, shelter, and space may influence animal or plant populations. Many other limiting factors affect the population as well.

Human Conflict & Warfare

War often comes with an intense negative environmental effect for both people and animals. It can be difficult to properly find balance within differing species, especially if one of the species is armed.

In many cases, animals become the target of military operations. They can be killed intentionally or inadvertently as a result of bombings, gunfire, and landmines.

Wildlife populations become most vulnerable during wartime, particularly in conflict zones, when they are considered an easy source of food for troops. According to Conservation International (CI), as much as 50% of all animal deaths in war zones are a direct result of military operations.

In addition, conflict destroys natural habitats, displaces wildlife, and introduces new threats, such as firearms and landmines, to animals living in the area.

The widespread use of cluster bombs in repeated armed conflict zones also poses a particular threat to animals as they often contain large numbers of small bomblets that can be scattered over a wide area. These bomblets often fail to detonate on impact and can remain lethal to animals long after the conflict has ended.

Looting and vandalism by troops and civilians also destroy animal habitats and disrupt the natural food chain.

The illegal wildlife trade often thrives during times of conflict as well, as desperate people seek to make a profit from selling rare or endangered animals.

In many cases, war can have a devastating impact on local animal populations. One example is the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where it is estimated that up to 5 million animals have been killed since 1998. This includes around 2 million elephants, whose ivory tusks have been hacked off to be sold or carved into statues and other trinkets.

In this case, war has caused changes in animal behavior as well. For example, elephants in the DRC no longer migrate due to lack of food and because they fear being killed by rebel groups who hunt them for their meat or ivory.

Furthermore, cheetahs are now being killed in large numbers because they prey on local livestock.

Consequences for Humans

2d digital illustration of a destroyed city.

Wars can have a significant negative impact on human populations as well. The environmental damage caused by conflict is often exacerbated by the poor health of people living in war zones.

The effects of war on the environment can be so significant that it drives people from their homes, which can have a devastating impact on their health.

According to CI, the DRC is an example of how environmental damage caused by armed conflict exacerbates existing poverty and sickness in areas affected by war.

In this case, many people suffer from respiratory problems due to the thick smoke from fires used to cook food and heat homes. The lack of clean water and sanitation facilities also leads to the spread of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and malaria.

In other cases, war can directly lead to the death of large numbers of people. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the spread of infectious diseases, malnutrition, and lack of access to health care can lead to a dramatic increase in deaths.

The WHO estimated that in 2004 alone, there were more than 5 million war-related deaths globally.

See Related: Are Humans Animals? 15 Things to Know

Zoo Animals

Zoo animals are often the victims of war as well. They may be killed or tortured, and their habitats may be destroyed. It is important to remember these animals when we think about the consequences of war.

An example is during the Iraqi war, animals had been taken a distance from the zoo in Baghdad. Animals were eventually killed if captured.

How Can We Help?

Thankfully, there are ways we can support wildlife conservation during wartime.

One important step is to ensure that the rules of international humanitarian law are followed by all parties involved in a conflict. This includes making sure that military operations do not unnecessarily harm animals and that they are not used as target practice.

In addition, we can support organizations like CI that work to protect animals in war zones. They often work with local communities to create animal-friendly sanctuaries where animals can be safe from the threat of violence.

We can also be mindful of how our actions may impact wild animals living in war zones. For example, when traveling in these areas we should avoid buying souvenirs made from endangered animals.

By being aware of the impact of war on animals, we can help to ensure their safety and welfare during these difficult times.

There are many conservation organizations that you can work with to reduce the dramatic wildlife declines seen in areas of conflict frequency (like North and South Korea), civil war, and other armed conflicts.

These events have a dramatic impact on climate change and wildlife conservation activists need your support.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, it is evident that war has a devastating effect on wild animals, both through direct and indirect means. The impact of war on the environment can be long-lasting and far-reaching, with serious consequences for the welfare of animals.

What are your thoughts?


What problems affect animals during the war?

Animals and war seem to be a tragic pairing. Animals are not just innocent bystanders when it comes to war; they’re also victims who sometimes pay the ultimate price as casualties of war, as well as refugees who suffer from poverty and many other problems that affect humans.

How did the Vietnam War affect wildlife?

Wildlife was often neglected during the Vietnam War, but certain efforts were made to counter the damage that could be done to habitats like forests or wetlands. The South Vietnamese government developed conservation projects that included national parks and preserves which increased in size because the land was seized by wartime needs.

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