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Environmental Contaminants

Understanding the socioeconomic dynamics driving human-wildlife conflict and wildlife poisonings

Contaminants are a growing threat to wildlife as well as human health, yet the ecotoxicological impacts of agriculture and extractive industry have been given inadequate attention. Whether it is local artisanal gold mining introducing mercury into key wildlife areas, or the chemicals associated with large-scale energy extraction, mining and/or agricultural activities, contaminants can be invisible yet have insidious impacts on wildlife as well as people and their domestic animals.

The effects of such contaminants manifest themselves in a number of ways, including through endocrine disruption, neurologic and immunologic impairment, and the fostering of neoplasia (cancers). Separately, a wide range of species across multiple continents – including but by no means limited to elephants, carnivores, vultures, other birds, and fish – are experiencing increasing losses due to intentional poisonings with, for example, cyanide and organophosphates. Forensic identification of the poisons being used guides the development and enforcement of legal measures, and assists in the treatment of wildlife, human and domestic animal survivors. But more fundamentally, preventing these tragic events requires that we improve our understanding of the complex socioeconomic dynamics driving human-wildlife conflict and wildlife poisonings for bushmeat or other wildlife-derived products.

Profile of a lion standing in a grassland.