Image: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS
On first reflection it would seem that living in a war zone is rough, no matter your species. When armed conflicts erupt we are too often overwhelmed by the numbers of humans injured and killed. How animals are affected by the fighting is easily overlooked. While for some species a conflict zone is no place to live, for others, having the humans distracted makes their existence a tad easier -- take the tiger, who finds feeding on corpses easier than hunting down a meal.
These 5 species have thrived, when humans are busy fighting amongst themselves. Fellow TreeHugger Jennifer gave us a good overview of the recent State of the Wild (SOTW) report put out by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which contains a special section called Wildlife in Conservation in a Time of War. This list is inspired by the lead article of the report by Jeffrey A. McNeely, Conservation Amidst War.
1. TigersAn historical case takes us back to the Vietnam War. While the U.S. forces used Agent Orange to destroy vast areas of forest and flush out guerrilla supply routes, post-war studies show that areas that were not defoliated actually prospered. McNeely gives us a glimpse:
Tigers (Pantheris tigris) reportedly learned that fighting leaves corpses upon which they could feed. After the war, field biologists returned to Vietnam's forests to find an amazing number of species had survived the turmoil, including the newly discovered giant muntjac (Muntiacus vuquangenesis) and the soala (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis)
2. White-Naped Cranes
The saga of white-naped crane and its fellow species living in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is perhaps the most well known contemporary story of animals thriving as a result of human conflict. Fellow TreeHugger Stephen explains the recent plan to turn the ecologically thriving DMZ into a park:
The Korean DMZ, 155 miles long and roughly 2 miles wide, has been a literal 'no man's land' for 57 years--and that means its been a virtual haven for wildlife. The heavily fortified strip of land is home to some of Korea's most endangered species, like the Korean Tiger, Asiatic Black bear, and the extreme rare red-crowned and white-naped cranes.
After years of speculation, today it was announced that after a meeting between cabinet-level agencies in South Korea, that the gem that lies between their two nations would be transformed into an ecological corridor to promote tourism and the preservation of the DMZ's rich ecosystems.
The cranes are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List with an estimated population around 6000. The International Crane Foundation (ICF) reports that major threats to the birds include habitat loss due to agricultural expansion in breeding range and further threats from dam building Amur River basin and the Three Gorges Dam. ICF also lists the possibility of active combat in the Korean DMZ as a threat, but for now this conflict may be the cranes saving grace.
3. Haddock and Cod
Going back to World War I, there is evidence that humans preoccupation with killing each other proved a boon for sea life in the North Atlantic. The 30-year period before the war saw the industrialization of the fishing industry take a toll on fish stocks, in what could be the first big baseline shift for marine life. In his article "Marine Life in Times of Conflict" from the SOTW report, marine conservationist Callum M. Roberts states that the marine catch in England and Wales fell by two-thirds between 1914 and 1917, while fishing boats were busy sweeping for mines, protecting convoys and setting antisubmarine nets. He expands:
After the cessation of hostilities, fishers were rewarded with spectacular catches all along the North Atlantic seaboard of Europe. Later analysis of landings and fishing effort data showed that combined stocks of bottom-living fish such as cod, haddock, and hake had rebounded. For example, catch per unit of fish effort increased by 105 percent in the North Sea, by 75 percent around the Faroe Islands, and by 260 percent in the English Channel. Scientists were finally convinced of the link between fishing pressure and the size of fish stocks, and they realized that stock sizes could be manipulated by adjusting fishing pressure -- a fundamental truth that lies at the heart of fisheries management today.
So, not only did marine life in the North Atlantic catch a breather during the Great War, the unintended experiment was repeated during World War II with the same results. Roberts writes that the UK's chief fisheries scientist at the time used this data to suggest restraint in fishing to "take advantage of the much needed stock rebuilding." This advice went unheeded and many stocks are again (perpetually?) in danger.