Decolonize Conservation

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 of conventional conservation programs.

But in Africa and Asia, governments and NGOs are stealing vast areas of land from tribal peoples 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.

Survival is campaigning to end carbon offset projects in Protected Areas where the rights of Indigenous peoples are violated. Help us to stop Blood Carbon projects on Indigenous lands.

Congolese officials hand the top official (and WWF employee) of Salonga National Park an assault rifle. Some of the park © 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.

BBC: Kaziranga Tiger Reserve
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 indigenous peoples 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.

"WWF arrived in our forest and is establishing boundaries without our consent. No one has even explained to us. They just told us that we no longer had the right to go in the forest. Already the ecoguards are making us suffer. They beat people but they don’t protect elephants.”
- Baka villagers, Congo

“Reputable” organizations like WWF support Colonial Conservation

WWF-funded guards in Gabon © WWF
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.

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Indigenous people out: Tourists, trophy hunters and loggers welcome

Tellingly, those who support the violent exclusion of indigenous peoples 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, indigenous 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 peoples 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 has tribal peoples and their rights 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

Dozens of people were shot and killed by park rangers in Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India, before we launched our campaign. Since then, the number of killings has fallen dramatically.

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

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

Persuaded the UN to stop supporting WWF’s flagship project

After persistent lobbying and a formal complaint by Survival, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) launched an investigation into WWF’s flagship Messok Dja project in the Congo. It subsequently scrapped its support for the project. We need your help to continue persuading those who fund fortress conservation to change their ways.
A damning UN investigation condemned WWF’s flagship project in Congo. © Survival International

Made sure indigenous voices are heard

Together with its allies, Survival organized the world’s first congress to decolonize conservation. This ground-breaking event gave a platform to
experts, activists and representatives, indigenous and non-indigenous, and presented an alternative vision of conservation, where Indigenous peoples are in control of their own lands.

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

The Our Land Our Nature congress gave a platform to those who have suffered from “green solutions”, from Indigenous people to local activists. © Survival

Exposed WWF abuses in US Congress

After lobbying by Survival, a Congressional committee held a special hearing to grill WWF over the catalogue of abuses carried out by park rangers who, funded and trained by WWF, have assaulted, robbed and murdered Indigenous people in the name of “conservation.”

We need your help to end colonial conservation and ensure that the real experts are in charge.

An unprecedented hearing in the US Congress exposed WWF’s failure to take responsibility for abuses it funds. © House Nat Resources Committee

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 peoples 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.

These Khadia men were thrown off their land after it was turned into a Protected Area. They lived for months under plastic sheets. Millions more face this fate if the 30% plan goes ahead. © Survival

Big Green Lie

At the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal in early 2023, world leaders agreed a plan to turn 30% of the Earth into “Protected Areas” by 2030 – a plan which Survival condemned as failing to recognize that Indigenous peoples are the best conservationists and that the best way to protect biodiversity is to protect their land rights. Big conservation NGOs say this creating more Protected Areas will mitigate climate change, reduce wildlife loss, enhance biodiversity and so save our environment. They are wrong.
Find out more about why Survival wants to expose the #BigGreenLie

© Fiore Longo/Survival

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.
Help us stop this

Find out more about why Survival wants to #StopMessokDja

For Chenchu, being forest people is an essential part of their identity and pride. Amrabad Tiger Reserve. © Survival

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.
Help us stop this

Find out more about Tribal conservationists in India’s tiger reserves

Botswana Bushmen, Kua Children. © Forest Woodward / Survival, 2015

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.
Here’s how we did it →

‘We were made the same as the sand’ – A photo-essay on the Bushmen’s forced eviction from their ancestral homeland in 2006.

Find out more about colonial conservation

Video Testimonies
  • Click here for a selection of video testimonies from our Tribal Voice project

    Statements from tribal and local people

  • Letters from the Baka people of Congo Basin
  • An Open Letter from the Chenchu tribe of Amrabad tiger Reserve
  • Charles’ letter to Princes William and Harry on conservation

    Survival’s essential reading

  • When conservation looks like colonialism, it’s time for a new approach
  •  The shocking truth about tiger conservation
  • WWF is complicit in human rights abuses and illegal land theft
  • Why conservation needs to change: an FAQ about Survival’s campaign

    TV investigations
  • Victims of the WWF- Zembla
  • Forest of Fear – Channel 4 Unreported World
  • BBC Newsnight: How far should we go to stop poaching?

    Buzzfeed investigations

  • WWF Funds Guards Who Have Tortured And Killed People
  • A Leaked Report Shows WWF Was Warned Years Ago Of “Frightening” Abuses
  • WWF Says Indigenous People Want This Park. An Internal Report Says Some Fear Forest Ranger “Repression.”
  • WWF-Backed Guards Raped Pregnant Women And Tortured Villagers At A Wildlife Park Funded By The US Government

    Related news

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      June 7, 2024
    • Breaking: European Parliament calls out Maasai evictions from iconic Serengeti landscape
      December 14, 2023
    • Kenya: Are carbon credits behind Ogiek evictions? NGOs release statement in run-up to COP28
      November 29, 2023
    • Kenya government illegally evicts Ogiek from their ancestral forests during King Charles’s state visit
      November 3, 2023
    • Tanzania prevents MEPs from investigating Maasai abuses
      September 6, 2023

    • More information on colonial conservation