Indigenous people are the best conservationists

Evidence proves indigenous people understand and manage their environment better than anyone else. 80% of Earth’s biodiversity is in tribal territories and when indigenous peoples have secure rights over their land, they achieve at least equal if not better conservation results at a fraction of the cost.

But in Africa and Asia, governments and NGOs are stealing vast areas of land from tribal people and local communities under the false claim that this is necessary for conservation.

They then call the stolen land a “Protected Area” or “National Park” and keep out the original inhabitants, sometimes with a shocking level of violence. While tourists and other outsiders are welcomed in, the ecoguards and park rangers burn down local people’s homes, steal goods and vandalise property, and beat, torture, rape and kill local people with impunity.

If this sounds hard to believe, please watch these video testimonies from tribal people who have experienced this firsthand

Congolese officials hand the top official (and WWF employee) of Salonga National Park an assault rifle. Some of the park’s guards have been accused of gang rape, torture and murder.© Sinziana-Maria Demian / WWF

This is colonialism pure and simple: powerful global interests are shamelessly taking land and resources from vulnerable people while claiming they are doing it for the good of humanity.

Well known conservation groups like WWF, WCS, and African Parks have been aware of these atrocities for many years but they continue to fund and support colonial conservation. They directly equip and train the perpetrators of violence. Some have covered up reports of abuse.

Brutal evictions from Kaziranga National Park, India. WWF equips and trains wildlife guards at Kaziranga, even though they are well aware that the authorities perpetrate atrocities like this against local people.

Colonial Conservation is based on racism, violence and intimidation

Colonial conservation, also known as Fortress Conservation, rests on the racist misconception that indigenous people cannot be trusted to look after their own land and the animals that live there. Its proponents view the original custodians of the land as a “nuisance” to be “dealt with", instead of as experts in local biodiversity and key partners in conservation.

The enforcers of colonial conservation have beaten and murdered dozens of innocent people, including children and people with disabilities. Few of the perpetrators have ever faced justice for these crimes.

Tribal peoples like the Baka and the Chenchu tell us that they see colonial conservation as the biggest threat they face.

Listen to this Baka man recount how a little girl and an elderly man died when his community was attacked by Congolese wildlife guards funded by WWF.

According to international law, the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) of local communities is required before any projects can take place on their land, but the big conservation organizations have never properly sought this consent. In many cases, the indigenous inhabitants only find out what’s happening when they are being evicted, or when armed rangers appear in their communities.

“Reputable” organizations like WWF support Colonial Conservation

Big conservation groups like WWF, WCS and African Parks are complicit in all this. They fund and support the perpetrators of these atrocities and do very little to stop the violence inflicted on the original custodians of the land they claim to care so much about.

The theory goes that humans (especially when they’re not white) inside protected areas are a threat to the environment. But the indigenous people have been living there all this time: these territories are important conservation zones today precisely because the original inhabitants have looked after their land and wildlife so well.

Leela, a young Chenchu man from Amrabad tiger reserve in India, explains how the Chenchu look after their land better than anyone else.
We reject funding from governments. This keeps us 100% independent so we can speak out against powerful interests. Your donations make our work possible.

Make a donation

Indigenous people out: Tourists, trophy hunters and loggers welcome

Tellingly, those who support the violent exclusion of indigenous people from protected areas often actively encourage other kinds of human presence there. Many protected areas invite mass tourism, and they’re often home to trophy hunting, logging, and mining.

Under this model of conservation, local people are forbidden from hunting for food, but foreigners are welcome to hunt for sport.

“The tourist numbers are very high, we are being troubled by them a lot. The plastic waste that the tourists are bringing in – the animals are dying because of this.”

Husain Swamy, Chenchu, Amrabad, India

Some conservationists say that tourism, trophy hunting and “sustainable” resource extraction generate income which can fund conservation work. But when indigenous people have secure rights over their own land, they achieve at least equal if not better conservation results at a fraction of the cost. According to a recent report:

Indigenous peoples have long stewarded and protected the world’s forests. They are achieving at least equal conservation results with a fraction of the budget of protected areas, making investment in indigenous peoples themselves the most efficient means of protecting forests.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur

Time for a new approach

Anyone who truly cares about the planet must stop supporting any form of “conservation” which wounds, alienates and destroys the environment’s best allies. It’s time for a new conservation that recognises indigenous peoples as senior partners in the fight to protect their own land.

For over 30 years, Survival has been campaigning against the atrocities committed in the name of “conservation.” Join us now to #DecolonizeConservation and champion a new approach that puts tribal peoples at its heart. They were expert conservationists long before the word “conservation” was even invented.

We’ve made incredible progress. Here are some of the things we’ve achieved in just the last few years

Reduced the number of extra-judicial killings

Akash Orang, a seven year old tribal boy, was maimed for life after being shot by a guard in Kaziranga National Park. The park has a shoot on sight policy. © Survival

In 2014-2015, forty-five people were shot and killed by park rangers in Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India. After our campaign, launched alongside local people who bravely denounced the atrocities, the number of killings fell to six in 2016-2017, and 1 in 2018-2019.

We need your help to make sure not a single person is killed in the name of conservation.

Changed international protocols on human rights abuse in conservation

Survival submitted the OECD complaint against violent abuse and harassment of Baka people in Cameroon by WWF-funded anti-poaching squads. This Baka girl was tortured by them when she was just 10 years old.

In 2017, we established a new international precedent meaning that conservation groups can now be held to the same human rights standards as profit-making corporations, thanks to the complaint we filed against WWF under the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines.

We need your help to hold the conservation industry to account and make sure their crimes don’t go unpunished.

Made sure indigenous voices are heard

WWF is financing the creation of a new protected area in the Congo without the consent of local tribes. Baka “Pygmies” have been evicted from the forest, they get robbed and beaten up and the rangers get bonuses for arresting them.

In 2018, we launched our campaign to stop a new park in Congo, because the Baka tribe don’t want it on their land. By the end of 2019, funders were finally investigating the project, and a consultation process with the Baka was underway.

We need your help to amplify indigenous voices to change the world in their favor.

Called WWF to account for human rights abuse

Buzzfeed’s investigations revealed that WWF funds rangers who have committed rape and murder, and systematically covers up these crimes.

In 2019, colonial conservation hit the mainstream media. Our work led to investigations published by Buzzfeed News, UK Channel 4’s Unreported World, and the Dutch investigative TV series Zembla. Government inquiries into WWF funding of human rights abuses and cover ups are now taking place in the U.S., UK and Germany.

We need your help to end colonial conservation and put the real experts in charge.

Join us now to amplify the voices of tribal peoples and change the world in their favor: For tribes, for nature, for all humanity.

Click here for our activist’s toolkit that you can use on social media.

We won’t give up until tribal people are properly respected as senior partners in the protection and management of their own land, and the abuses and evictions in conservation’s name have ended.

Stop Messok Dja

WWF is financing the creation of a new protected area in the Congo without the consent of local tribes. Baka “Pygmies” have been evicted from the forest, and the rangers get bonuses for arresting them. These rangers, funded and supported by WWF, have stolen the Baka’s possessions, burnt their camps, beaten and tortured them.

Tribes in India’s Tiger Reserves

Hundreds of thousands of tribal people in India whose lands have been turned into tiger reserves are at risk: their government is illegally evicting them from their ancestral land in the name of “conservation.” Yet in the first case where a tribe won the right to stay on its ancestral land, tiger numbers increased at 3 times the national average.

Success in Botswana!

When “Bushmen” were kicked off their lands in the name of conservation, Survival fought back alongside them. Together, we won an historic court battle: the judges ruled that the Bushmen’s eviction was ‘unlawful and unconstitutional’, and that they have the right to live inside the reserve.

Find out more about colonial conservation