- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- D.R. Congo
- Equatorial Guinea
- Guinea Bissau
- Ivory Coast
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- South Sudan
Saturday, June 20, 2015
Conservation for who?
Baka “Pygmies” of Central Africa eat 14 kinds of wild honey and more than 10 types of wild yam. By leaving part of the root intact in the soil, the Baka spread pockets of wild yams – a favorite food of elephants and wild boar – throughout the forest. The Baka are taught not to overhunt the animals of the forest. A Baka woman said, “When you find a female animal with her young, you must not kill her. Even worse, when the little animals are walking next to their mother, it is strictly forbidden to kill them.” But despite their intimate knowledge of their environment, Baka in southeast Cameroon face arrest and beatings, torture and even death at the hands of wildlife officers funded and supported by the conservation giant World Wide Fund for Nature. Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, has uncovered serious abuses of Baka “Pygmies” in southeast Cameroon, at the hands of anti-poaching squads supported and funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The Baka are being illegally forced from their ancestral homelands in the name of “conservation” because much of their land has been turned into “protected areas” – including safari-hunting zones. Rather than target the powerful individuals behind organized poaching, wildlife officers and soldiers pursue Baka who hunt only to feed their families.
Cameroon’s Ministry of Forests and Fauna, which employs the wildlife officers, is funded by WWF. WWF also provides officers with technical, logistical and material assistance. Without this support the anti-poaching squads could not function. UN standards require WWF to prevent or mitigate “adverse human rights impacts directly linked to its operations” even if it has not contributed to them, but the giant of the conservation industry appears reluctant to acknowledge this. Despite the evidence that the anti-poaching squads have grossly abused the rights of the Baka, WWF continues to provide its crucial support. As a result of the loss of their land and its resources, many Baka have reported a serious decline in their health and a rise in diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. And they fear going into the forest that has provided them with everything they need for countless generations.
A Baka man told Survival, “The forest used to be for the Baka but not anymore. We would walk in the forest according to the seasons but now we’re afraid. How can they forbid us from going into the forest? We don’t know how to live otherwise. They beat us, kill us and force us to flee to Congo.”
The Bushmen consume over 150 species of plant and their diet is high in vitamins and nutrients. Yet Africa’s last hunting Bushmen in Botswana are abused, tortured and arrested when found hunting to feed their families. A Bushman said, “I know how to take care of the game. That’s why I was born with it, and lived with it, and it’s still there. If you go to my area, you’ll find animals, which shows that I know how to take care of them. In other areas, there are no animals.”
The Bushman tribes of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve are the last Bushmen to largely depend on hunting in Africa. They were illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands in the name of “conservation”. Although the tribes won an historic legal battle to return to their land, the government is using hunger as a weapon to ensure it gets its way. Government officials have admitted that the Bushmen do not hunt with guns and there is no evidence that their hunting is unsustainable. Despite this, in 2014, President Khama acted against the constitution, and imposed a nationwide hunting ban; international conservation organizations have heaped praise on him. Private game ranches, however, are exempt from the ban. The Bushmen are accused of “poaching” because they hunt their food. And they face arrest, beatings and torture, while fee-paying big game hunters are encouraged. The Bushmen, as hunter-gatherers, are being starved off their land. With no way to feed themselves in the reserve, they are forced once more to return to return to government resettlement camps or “places of death,” as they call them. Racism among the governing elite in Botswana means the Bushmen are typically treated as second-class citizens, their human rights trampled on. Their way of life is entirely compatible with conservation: the Bushmen, more than anyone, are motivated to protect the wildlife on which they depend. Bushmen tribes have inhabited the region since time immemorial. They know how best to look after their environment. Why have they been excluded from the conservation process? Not a single conservation organization stood up for the Bushmen’s human rights when they were evicted and, shamefully, the conservation industry has lauded President Khama. For example, he has been invited to host a prestigious event for the new global campaign against poaching called United for Wildlife, a coalition of the most powerful conservation NGOs. Its president is Prince William.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve lies in the middle of the richest diamond-producing area in the world. For years, the government claimed that the eviction of the Bushmen was motivated by conservation and had nothing to do with mining. Yet in 2014, a diamond mine worth billions of dollars opened inside the reserve, on the Bushmen’s ancestral land. Conservation, it seems, was just an excuse for removing the Bushmen. Khama is also on the board of Conservation International, which ignores his atrocious human rights record. It similarly turns a blind eye to the diamond mining and fracking exploration he encourages on Bushman land.
There are many more examples of how tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world – satellite images and academic studies have shown that indigenous peoples provide a vital barrier to deforestation of their lands. Yet tribal peoples are being illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands in the name of “conservation.” It’s often wrongly claimed that their lands are wildernesses even though tribal peoples have been dependent on, and managed, them for millennia.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said, “Tribal peoples are better at looking after their environments than anyone else – after all, they have been dependent on, and managed, them for millennia. If conservation is actually going to start working, conservationists need to ask tribal peoples what help they need to protect their land, listen to them, and then be prepared to back them up as much as possible. A major change in thinking about conservation is now urgently required.”