The Militarization Of Conservation And The Dark Side Of The WWF Exposed

The director of Survival International, a charity that protects tribal people around the world, has recently highlighted some shocking cases of corruption by charities such as WWF which should make all of us question the real motives of well-respected wildlife protection organizations.

It’s important to state from the outset that Survival’s work on conservation is widely endorsed and highly respected by environmentalists. As we reported here, the organization has done a wonderful job of stopping the theft of tribal lands since it was founded in 1969. It regularly demonstrates on its website and in its press releases how the defense of indigenous people is crucial if we are serious about protecting our wildlife and ecosystems. For example, the Yanomami tribe manage and care for one of the largest areas of protected rainforest in the world. Indigenous reserve boundaries in Brazil give crucial protection against the deforestation of the Amazon. In India, displacement of the Baiga tribe from their ancestral lands opens up the jungle to destruction in the name of ‘progress’.

Yet despite all the evidence to show how tribal people are “the best conservationists”, indigenous people are frequently beaten, abused and killed by armed guards working for WWF and other leading conservation organizations. In addition, the corruption and hypocrisy surrounding the conservation movement’s ties to legal hunting clubs have been largely ignored by the mainstream media. Survival director Stephen Corry recently wrote a damning op-ed letter about these urgent issues in US digital magazine Truthout. In it, he writes:

“Some Western conservationists welcome extreme measures. As far as they’re concerned, if there’s reason to think that people are hunting elephant, for example, they deserve nothing other than to be perfunctorily gunned down. Yet there’s more than one contradiction in this: Trophy hunters also routinely kill elephants legally.”

Corry mentions the Dallas Safari club that famously auctioned off the right to kill an endangered black rhino in Namibia last year. “Conservationists actually profit from trophy hunting,” he points out. And here’s the bombshell: “[this] club is now a fully-fledged component of the WWF’s partner, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.”

A hunting club tied to one of the WWF’s partners? Many people are already aware of this issue, but we can assume the good people donating their hard-earned money to these charities are still in the dark about it. WWF generates $2m in donations daily. This money is simultaneously funding big-game hunting expeditions and armed guards who beat and abuse vulnerable tribal people. Corry also mentions the tale of a Spanish company called Mayo Oldiri, who organize hunting trips in a ‘protected’ area of Cameroon. One of their clients, Peter Flack, was given a ‘hunter of the year’ award by the Confederation of Hunting Associations of South Africa six years before his 2012 trip. Corry reveals that Flack is a former mining magnate…and a WWF trustee.

“When land in Cameroon was stolen from the Baka people for ‘protected zones,’ the WWF played an important role in carving up the territory, which included safari hunting concessions and logging areas, as well as national parks,” Corry goes on. “The industrial-strength nongovernment organization steadfastly ignores requests to release the records, which would show what it agreed to, and claims, entirely falsely, that the Baka consented to their land being taken.”

Survival has reported on how the Baka have been tormented by WWF-funded guards for years, and even children are no exception to the commonplace beatings given by men from these security firms. One elderly Baka woman was even pepper-sprayed in her own home, while other members of the tribe report being attacked with machetes and left for dead.

“Local tribespeople, have long been thought of by some conservationists as ‘in the way’ of the environment,” Corry writes. “They’re termed ‘poachers’ and abused accordingly.” In addition to the Baka people in Cameroon, “the Bushmen in Botswana and Adivasi tribes in India are also regularly beaten or worse by those claiming to protect nature.”

We all care very much about wildlife conservation, but it’s hard to see how these heavy-handed intimidation tactics are fair-  especially in light of all the perfectly legal hunting expeditions that are on offer for rich westerners. “The Bushmen hunt with spear or bow and arrow to feed their families and don’t threaten wildlife survival,” Corry points out. “Nevertheless, Botswana’s president, General Khama (a board member of Conservation International), is lauded by conservationists for his recent countrywide hunting ban, in spite of the fact that it’s unconstitutional. It’s a renewed effort to get rid of the Bushmen, though his ban applies to everyone – apart from safari hunters of course. Rich white people (they are almost invariably white) pay to shoot pretty much anything; black African hunters on the other hand, face arrest, beatings and death.”

He goes on: “It’s not confined to Africa. Locals near Kaziranga National Park in India are reportedly paid to inform on poachers. If someone is subsequently killed, the informant is given up to $1,000, a small fortune locally and a big incentive to point a finger. According to local wildlife expert Firoz Ahmed, “Sometimes we … know what (the poachers) are planning before they act … and they get killed.” In other words, people are extra-judicially executed after a third party, with a vested financial interest, claims they’re planning a crime against animals. The guards, on the other hand, have immunity from prosecution.”

Kinessa Johnson, an ex marine who worked with VETPAW anti-poaching squads. Image: Survival international
Kinessa Johnson, an ex marine who worked with VETPAW anti-poaching squads. Image: Survival international

Corry also condemned the work of VETPAW, a publicly-funded initiative which sends ex-marines to Africa to protect wildlife by killing poachers. The ex-Marines poaching the poachers seem, on the face of it, to tick all the boxes- bad guys are killed, veterans have a job to do, wildlife is saved- but at what cost? VETPAW may have widespread public support, but Corry argues that it equates to little more than 21st century imperialism. In fact, he says, this “green militarism” is nothing new:

“When national parks were created in 19th century United States, the cavalry first exiled the Native Americans who lived and hunted there and then kept other ‘poachers’ out,” he points out. “The environmental movement was largely the creation of wealthy big-game hunters who wanted to stop ‘their’ herds from being killed by hungry locals. The curious idea that big-game hunters are the best conservationists remains common, and the term ‘poachers’ has always meant only those other hunters whom conservationists want to get rid of.”

Corry summarizes these key issues with this statement: “Before it frets about terrorists, who are outside its control, the conservation industry might first halt the criminal activity – such as abusing tribal hunters – that we know it does fund. After all, stealing tribespeople’s lands and arresting, beating and torturing them (or worse) is pretty much guaranteed eventually to damage the environment.”

“It’s time for the conservation industry to stop mouthing platitudes about human rights and start applying them for real. It’s time for it to come clean about its past. It’s also time for it to stop seeing criticism like this as something to be repulsed by public relations lackeys. Until then, it’s difficult to see it doing much lasting good, and there’s no doubt at all it’s hurting innocent people.”

Survival has now launched a campaign called ‘Stop the Con’ to raise public awareness of how conservation efforts frequently infringe on the basic rights of indigenous people to live self-sufficiently in peace. In the video above, a Baka man talks about WWF-funded attacks on his tribe.

What do you think? Is there an important distinction to be made between indigenous people hunting for survival and illegal poachers who do the same thing for financial gain? Let us know your thoughts on this story in the comments section, and please consider sharing if you feel strongly about this issue.

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