Wildlife products, including animals, as well as natural resources such as timber and minerals have and are still funding conflicts around the globe. Apart from the loss of species and income, habitat loss can lead to a vicious circle of further species loss.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s great apes are particularly affected by conflict. The United Nations, in addition to supporting efforts to end armed violence, protect civilians and spur political stability, is also an active player in the environmental battle to save the great apes, the region’s iconic local totem and a vital link in its biodiversity.
“There has always been a fear that armed conflict would damage the great apes – bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans - and even wipe out certain wildlife,” said Douglas Cress, programme co-ordinator at the Great Apes Survival Partnership (Grasp), led by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
“In terms of natural resources, the DRC is one of the most potentially lucrative regions in all of Africa. The country has rich reserves of timber, gold, tantalum (used in cell phones and computers) and potentially also oil.
“The fight for possession of these resources, as well as land and political power, is a major cause of conflict with rebels such as, most recently, M23, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and others that have emerged from the area or entered from neighbouring countries.”
Conflict degrades the natural environment
“In turn, conflict endangers the natural environment. All natural resources suffer during conflict. It’s not always a certainty that wildlife will be exploited to death, often it’s just exploited,” said Cress.
To stave off extreme degradation of the DRC’s natural environment, the UN and its partners are working with international law enforcement, governments and local communities to save wildlife and habitat.
The forests of the DRC represent half of the total area of tropical rainforest in Africa, providing shelter for great apes, such as the mountain gorilla and the bonobo, as well as the okapi and elephant, among other mammals and countless species of birds and reptiles.
The country’s rich biodiversity led to five natural sites – Garamba, Kahuzi-Biega, Okapi, Salonga, and Virunga – being designated to the UNESCO World Heritage List between 1979 and 1996 and since then, with nearly all species of animals declining, to the List of World Heritage in Danger. More....