National parks, logging concessions and trophy hunting zones have been imposed on vast areas of land in the Congo Basin. A new report by Survival International documents how the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society have played a key role in this carve up of indigenous peoples’ lands.
The report, titled “How will we Survive?” is available here.
In the name of conservation, indigenous peoples have been evicted from their land. They are accused of “poaching”, even though they are hunting to feed their families. They are even accused of poaching when hunting outside protected areas.
Survival International writes that,
This “green colonialism” is destroying lives, and is illegal. It is also harming conservation. Scapegoating tribal people diverts action away from tackling the real causes of environmental destruction in the Congo Basin: logging and corruption.
Survival International reports abuses in Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic, going back to 1989, at the hands of eco-guards funded and equipped by WWF and WCS. This post focusses on WWF and Cameroon – in a future post, Conservation Watch will look at Survival International’s allegations against WCS.
Last week, Conservation Watch sent a series of questions to WWF about Survival International’s report. WWF’s response will be posted in full tomorrow.
Survival International notes that WWF has been aware of the human rights abuses against the Baka indigenous people, but has failed to take meaningful action. Survival International writes that,
Nowadays anti-poaching squads supported by WWF routinely raze entire forest camps to the ground, both inside and outside national parks. The violence they visit upon the Baka and their neighbours knows no bounds: victims have included pregnant women, the elderly and infirm – even small children.
In 1991, WWF invited a team of researchers to assess WWF’s proposals for a protected area in southeast Cameroon. Baka and Bangando indigenous peoples told the researchers that the forests and wildlife were in danger of being wiped out. They said that powerful people, loggers and trophy-hunters had been awarded licenses by the Cameroonian government and that they were responsible for the threats to the forest.
The researchers called for local people’s rights to be protected. And for the destruction of the forest and wildlife by outsiders to be stopped. The Baka and Bangando, the researchers wrote, used the land sustainably and could help monitor it against poachers.
A 1996 report by WCS found that non-local hunters had flooded into the area from other parts of Cameroon and bordering countries. The outsiders killed about ten times as much wildlife as the local population. Villagers said that the non-local hunters “finish all the animals in the forest”.
WWF backed the creation of the Lobéké National Park, which was created in 2001. A 2002 paper published in the journal Nomadic Peoples by Britta Jell and Jutta Schmidt reports that,
“The local population was hardly consulted or informed prior to the gazetting, and therefore the local people perceived the delineation of the proposed Protected Area as an act of excluding them from ‘their forest’. As a consequence, it was quite difficult to establish the trust of the Baka and Bangando in the governmental agencies and WWF, and to establish an interest for conservation measures in the Protected Area.”
WWF also supported the creation of the Boumba Bek and Nki National Parks in 2005. These parks were also established on the Baka’s land without their free, prior and informed consent.
Thousands of Baka and Bangando were evicted when the Lobéké and Boumba Bek National Parks were created. In an evaluation of its work in Cameroon between 1992 and 2007, the Global Environment Facility wrote:
The creation of the Lake Lobéké and Boumba Bek National Parks — supported by the GEF under the Biodiversity Conservation and Management Project — led to the physical displacement of several Baka communities and economic displacement of around 8,000 people who depend on the parklands for more than 50 percent of their livelihoods.
But the Lobéké National Park has been unable to prevent poaching. The 2002 paper in Nomadic Peoples found that WWF made little effort to stop non-local hunters operating inside the National Park:
“In case of the non-local hunters, the control problem was aggravated by the fact that they were considered to be dangerous. Just like the local population, the WWF in charge of anti-poaching activities tried to avoid direct conflicts with the group.”
Survival International’s report includes a long list of human rights abuses against the Baka. Wildlife guards and soldiers raid villages. They have beaten Baka men to death, destroyed forest camps, and hit a pregnant woman with a machete. There are many reports of shootings, torture, waterboarding, arrests, beatings, arbitrary punishment, intimidation, and interrogations.