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Impacts of civil conflict on primary forest habitat in northern Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1990–2010

Janet Nackoney, Giuseppe Molinario, Peter Potapov, Svetlana Turubanova, Matthew C. Hansen, Takeshi Furuichi

War and civil conflict have been shown to contribute directly to increased wildlife poaching and environ- mental degradation, especially in developing countries. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) suffered heightened political instability that intensified during its first (1996–1997) and second (1998–2003) civil wars. Ground-based observations reported severe impacts on wildlife from increased human reliance on bushmeat as well as evidence of human populations moving deeper into interior forests to escape con- flict. Both were observed in the study area comprised of forests in and around Luo Scientific Reserve located in northern DRC, where studies on wild bonobos (Pan paniscus) have been conducted since 1973. Using Landsat TM and ETM + satellite imagery, we employed an automated classification tree algo- rithm developed specifically for Central Africa to monitor wartime patterns of human migration and resource use in the study area. We analyzed and compared primary forest loss and degradation rates across two decades (1990–2010). Annual rates of primary forest loss occurring during the 1990–2000 decade were over double the rates of the mainly post-war 2000–2010 decade, indicating higher human pressure on the forests during wartime. Maps and analyses of peripheral forests occurring around the edges of forest clearings illustrated an increased prevalence of small, scattered clearings during the war. We also found evidence showing there was likely less human pressure on interior forests after the wars ended. We demonstrate the utility of satellite-based remote sensing techniques for monitoring human access in interior forests and examining wartime links to observed declines in wildlife. 


Biological Conservation

Introduced in Smithsonian Magazine FEBRUARY 26, 2014



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