The Rise Of Border Fences Across Europe And Asia Has Unintended Consequences For Wildlife

Some animals are prevented from migrating, while many others are caught in the fences and die. Big Pants Production/Shutterstock
Josh Davis 23 Jun 2016, 15:28

As the threat of terrorism to national security has been rising, so too have the fences. But the return of border fences crisscrossing the continent may be having unintended impacts on the wildlife of the region.

A new study, published in PLOS Biology, has looked into the extent of the building of fences, and the effect it has been having on the movement and health of animals that need to roam. The researchers have described the trend of sealing borders as a “major threat” to wildlife right across the region, and how conservationist have been caught largely unawares on the issue.

“We hypothesize that 9/11 was the main driver, when the risk of terrorism and drug dealers coming in meant that governments were closing their borders to reduce the risk while conservationists were driving for a more open system to allow wildlife to cross,” Dr Matt Hayward who co-authored the study, told BBC News. “Certainly, there's a lot of high-profile fences that have been put up in recent times driven by the Syrian and refugee crisis.”

There has been an upward trend in the number of border fences. PLOS

The researchers found that while in the conservation world many thought the idea, and the importance, of trans-border populations of animals such as bears, deer, and wolves was widely accepted by governments, this wasn’t actually the case. Now, with up to 30,000 kilometers (18,600 miles) of fences and walls having been erected around many Eastern European and Central Asian countries, the scientists are only now realizing that they have not been listened to, as the threat of terrorism and human migration has meant many governments have rapidly constructed barriers.

If these barriers are to be effective, then it goes without saying that animals are also prevented from crossing, in many cases separating populations from their core ranges. They highlight how the razor wire fence along the Slovenia and Croatia border likely had “considerable unintended consequences for nature conservation,” isolating the bears, wolves, and lynx on each side.

But, the researchers note that fences in and of themselves are not necessarily a bad thing. While looking at the 4,700-kilometer (2,900-mile) fence that runs along the Mongolian-Chinese border, they found that while the Asiatic wild ass, or khulan, still survive in southern Mongolia living along the border, they are prevented from entering northern China where the herbivores are heavily poached.

In large parts of Africa, too, the fences are essential to protect the wildlife populations within, while those surviving outside of them have often been decimated. The problem, write the researchers, is that the fences have been constructed with no thought or consultation into how it will affect the animals, meaning that in the end, they tend to suffer.

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