In 1996, when war broke out in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, just 31 northern white rhinos remained in Garamba National Park, the last stronghold of this endangered species. Armed militias reached the park less than a year later, and half of the park’s elephants, two-thirds of its buffalos and three-quarters of its hippos disappeared in three short months.
Poaching of northern white rhinos also resumed, despite conservationists’ best efforts. Today, after a succession of armed clashes, only three northern white rhinos survive — all transplants from a zoo in the Czech Republic, and all confined to a single Kenyan conservancy.
That the rhinos’ habitat included a part of Africa plagued by human conflict was “desperately unfortunate,” said Kes Hillman-Smith, a Nairobi-based conservationist and author of “Garamba: Conservation in Peace and War.” “The endless wars there have taken their toll on all the wildlife in the region.”
Many case studies have demonstrated that war can affect the survival of local populations, sometimes threatening entire species. But the research is mixed: In some cases, conflict actually seems to aid animals.