Dear Prince William and Prince Harry,
My name is Charles.
I write to you from Cameroon, a country where conservation has gone badly wrong. I want you to know, and I want the media to know, that innocent people are dying because of conservation and you need to help them.
The forests that once were the home of the Baka people have been turned into national parks, logging concessions and safari hunting zones without their consent.
Eco-guards, I think you call them “park-rangers”, torture Baka people here and make their lives hell. They strip Baka naked and beat them, they humiliate them, forcing them to crawl on all fours and destroy their camps and possessions.
The Baka are accused of being poachers but they are guilty of nothing except trying to live and feed their families. They are punished because outsiders don’t understand their ways of life, not because they have done anything wrong.
Conservation is run by outsiders who know nothing about the communities that live here or our laws. Conservationists seem to think that outsiders are the only people who want to look after nature and can do it effectively but this makes no sense to me.
Your conference on the illegal wildlife trade this month will talk a lot about how to stop poachers from killing elephants and other animals. Who wants to look after nature more than the people who call it home and depend on it for their survival?
Who understands how to care for nature more than someone who has walked through the forest every day of their lives and knows every plant, every tree, every creature?
Work with them, not against them!
The Baka are your natural allies in conservation if only conservationists would listen to them. Do not exclude Baka people from conservation and do not punish them for leading their traditional ways of life.
And please remember that no conservation projects should happen on indigenous land unless the people agree. If this does not happen, your efforts at conservation can never succeed.
Charles Jones Nsonkali
Baka people’s community organization