The director of an advocacy group for native tribespeople has slammed ‘green militarism’ – the conservation movement’s increasing use of military tactics to persecute tribespeople who use their ancestral lands.
In particular he pointed the finger at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), who he accuses of carving up land belonging to native tribes in order to profit from logging, mining and even trophy hunting.
On February 7, 2015, two men were shot and killed by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority during an armed encounter in Matusadonha National Park. A third escaped by running away. The authorities claimed the men were poachers – one of the deceased was said to be on the wanted list having been found with four elephant tusks.
But the list of items found with the men tells a different story. In their possession, the men had between them one .303 rifle of the type first used by British colonials 120 years ago and seven rounds of ammo. Also with them was a knife, a cooking pot, and some dried buffalo of the type commonly eaten all across Africa.
According to Stephen Corry, director of Survival, a charity that lobbies on behalf of persecuted tribespeople, the incident is far from isolated. In India, local people living near the Kaziranga National Park are paid up to inform on poachers, with a further bonus of $1,000 handed over if that person is subsequently killed.
In a recent article published by Truth Out, Corry pointed out that this is “a small fortune locally and a big incentive to point a finger.”
He continued: “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.”
The deaths would be concerning even if these people were poachers in the classic, criminal sense of the word. But, according to Corry, the label “poacher” is a misnomer – often these are tribespeople who have been displaced from their land who are hunting in order to survive.
“Local people, including local tribespeople, have long been thought of by some conservationists as “in the way” of the environment,” Corry said. “They’re termed “poachers” and abused accordingly. Baka people in Cameroon, the Bushmen in Botswana and Adivasi tribes in India are beaten up or worse by those claiming to protect nature. It’s not getting better.”
Ironically, the native peoples are often the most effective conservationists. Indigenous reserves in the Amazonian rainforests of Brazil can be clearly made out in satellite imagery, as the forest often stops right at their borders.
Yet, belying their lack of real interest in the environment, conservation groups such as the World Wildlife Fund continue to fund so-called anti-poaching squads which drive natives off the land, allowing non-environmentally friendly, profit-making activities including mining, logging and tourism to take their place.
Even more hypocritically, these conservation organisations – which present a façade based on saving animals from destruction – even make space for trophy hunting. As Corry relates: “Conservationists actually profit from trophy hunting, as infamously illustrated by last year’s auction, in which a member of the Dallas Safari Club paid $350,000 to kill an endangered black rhino in Namibia. Corey Knowlton’s club is now a fully fledged component of the WWF’s partner, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
“Conservationists themselves hunt elephants. This can make sense in some places. Botswana’s Chobe Park is thought to have seven times the number of elephants it can support, resulting in a catastrophic loss of plant and animal diversity. Now that traditional tribal hunters have been largely wiped out by environmental regulations, letting the earth’s largest land creature multiply without control is a terrible idea for the environment.”
Corry goes on to name one of the hunters in particular: a South African by the name of Peter Flack. Flack, a former mining magnate, hunts endangered forest elephants and was named Hunter of the Year six times. He is also a trustee of the WWF.
Slamming the industry for its wholesale destruction of tribal peoples, lands and enviroments under a false banner of environmentalism, Corry concludes: “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.”