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Takeaway wildlife meat from the diet, and is the result social conflict?

The harvest of wild animals directly supports about 15% of the world's people and provides protein for more than a billion of the world's poor. It should come as no surprise that today's unprecedented loss of wildlife, is bringing with it severe repercussions in terms of conflict and human tragedy around the world. New research draws links between wildlife loss and social conflicts. The new study, "Wildlife decline and social conflict," appears in the July 25, 2014 issue edition of the magazine Science. Authors of the research say wildlife loss leads to exploitative labor practices, violence, and organized crime.

Citing many sobering examples of how wildlife loss leads to conflict among people around the world, a new article co-authored by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Health and Ecosystems: Analysis of Linkages (HEAL) Program Director Dr. Christopher Golden, calls for an interdisciplinary approach to tackle global biodiversity decline.

The article, led by Justin Brashares of the University of California, Berkeley and involving a team of sociologists and ecologists, offers three examples in which declines can be linked to conflict:

1) Altered economic structure leading to exploitative labor practices. Wildlife declines can bring about a need for more labor to collect scarcer resources. The authors discuss examples of trafficking of children and adults to undertake forced labor under abusive, and sometimes deadly, circumstances.

2) The rise of profiteering groups that use violence to control wildlife resources. Guerilla groups and militarized crime syndicates are drawn to huge profits gained through the trafficking of illicit wildlife items. Terrorist groups such as the Lord's Resistance Army and Janjaweed are poaching ivory tusks from elephants and rhino horn to fund their activities.

3) Vigilante resource management that escalates into conflict. In circumstances where government lacks the will or capacity to protect declining wildlife resources, vigilante movements may arise. Such was the case when Somalis set out to defend their exclusive fishing rights. Ultimately, these movements evolved into more violent forms and gave way to today's pirate activity.

"Unsustainable human exploitation of wildlife populations does not have singular effects on ecological integrity, but rather has far-reaching consequences that lead to the instability of our health, livelihoods and national security," said Chris Golden, according to the July 24, 2014 news release, "New study draws links between wildlife loss and social conflicts."

The authors believe that approaches based on a single discipline, such as law enforcement, will not tackle the myriad challenges of defaunation (loss of wildlife due to human pressures) and its impacts. Such approaches, they say, target outcomes rather than understanding the underlying factors driving demand for wildlife. Instead, the authors argue that an integration of disciplines that combines understanding in ecological, social, economic, political, and other issues is needed.

"Wildlife loss is widely viewed as a symptom of social unrest and injustice; we show with this work that is often the source of these social outcomes. As such, wildlife management should be a central element of efforts to mitigate conflicts as seemingly disparate as child slavery, ivory trafficking, and piracy." said Brashares, according to the July 24, 2014 news release, "New study draws links between wildlife loss and social conflicts."

The authors point to climate change policy as a possible model for an integrative approach, pointing out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has successfully brought together academia with scientists and policy-makers, and is far-reaching in its influence. The authors say the formation of a similarly and far reaching working group is long overdue for addressing the global decline of wildlife.

Co-authors of the study include: Justin S. Brashares, Briana Abrahms, Kathryn J. Fiorella, Cheryl E. Hojnowski, Ryan M. Marsh, Tristan A. Nunez, Kathrine Seto and Lauren Withey of the University of California, Berkeley; Christopher Golden of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Harvard School of Public Health; and Douglas J. McCauley of the University of California, Santa Barbara.