Wildlife driven to extinction in Syria and Libya by militias

The northern bald ibis is now extinct in the Middle East. The final member of this genetically distinct Syrian population – a ringed female called Zenobia – was last seen in Palmyra in 2014, a few months before ISIS fighters showed up, says Gianluca Serra, an Italian conservation biologist who is its most persistent follower. The ibis has since disappeared.

With no mate, the bird’s future was probably doomed even without ISIS, but Zenobia’s story typifies the plight of wildlife in a region engulfed by conflict. The recent troubles there have led to human tragedy, as well as destruction of historical and cultural monuments. Now it appears, nature isn’t spared either.

Across the Middle East and parts of North Africa civil war, poaching to buy guns, and refugees’ urgent need for food and firewood, are extinguishing relic populations of wildlife and wrecking their habitats.

Gazelles flourished in the deserts of southern Libya until recently, says Gus Gintzburger, a rangeland ecologist familiar with the country, who is now based in Mariginiup, Western

Migrating birds from Europe such as cranes, flamingos, bustards and herons are also being shot in large numbers on coastal wetlands that are no longer guarded, according to the Libya Wildlife Trust.

And the country’s treasured coastal juniper forests are under attack, says Ben Miller of the Kings Park botanic gardens in Perth, Australia. Before the Libyan conflict began in 2011, Miller ran a project with the Omar Al-Mukhtar University in Bayda to protect forests in Jebel, a biodiversity hotspot near Benghazi that is home to the endemic Alexandrian shrew, Crocidura aleksandrisi.

Armed groups have been taking advantage of the chaos since 2011 to fell the forests and take the land for farming, he says. Protected areas in Libya have never been extensive. But those that do exist are under serious threat.

-More at New Scientist

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