Leaders of one of the world’s biggest environmental organizations were aware of ongoing human-rights abuses committed by their anti-poaching officers in Africa, according to an investigation by Buzzfeed News.
Instantly recognizable for its iconic panda-bear logo, the World Wide Fund for Nature — known as the World Wildlife Fund in the United States — has a long history of working with governments around the world to advance ecological conservation.
Now the organization is under scrutiny for tolerating — and covering up — horrific abuses by committed anti-poaching field officers using funding from the United States, the European Union and other governments.
The WWF has received over $150 million in U.S. taxpayer money — and plenty more from Europe — thanks to its close relationships with the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other government agencies.
It channels this money to its local affiliates working with wildlife law enforcement agencies and officers in the Congo Basin, South Asia and elsewhere.
The basin of the Congo River — which encompasses Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, and Cameroon — contain some of the world’s most extensive rainforest and important megafauna, including gorillas and elephants.
It’s all under dire threat from poaching for profit as well as for meat.
In the name of these admirable anti-poaching goals, adorned with the latest in weaponry and surveillance gear, WWF-trained wildlife officers in Cameroon and DR Congo terrorize local people, committing acts of torture, rape and murder.
WWF also supports the expansion of parks at the expense of indigenous people such as the Baka (“pygmies”) in Republic of Congo, whose representatives claim that they have been shut out of the process of creating the parks.
In a letter to European Union officials, Baka representatives said that WWF-funded officials have “banned” them from their traditional forest home and their hunter-gatherer lifestyles.
“We don’t understand why you don’t come to us for our advice and our guidance about how to protect our forest,” the letter reads. “Haven’t you thought of that? If the forest is so beautiful, it’s because we are here! We are the ones you should be working with.”
Survival International, an international agency focused on supporting indigenous peoples around the world, said that WWF operations that affect the Baka should be shut down.
The Bakas’ claims of exclusion stand in stark contrast to what WWF relates on its website, where no hint of conflict with local communities is in evidence.
Hushing it up
The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources is reviewing the entire process of funding one of the world’s most prominent and powerful environmental groups, but no news on this has emerged since last summer.
The European Union is also reviewing the issue, and some European agencies have already suspended funding for the WWF.
WWF International, which is partially membership-funded, released a statement in July asserting that it was investigating the allegations and intended to implement a stronger code of conduct for its anti-poaching efforts, and also create new mechanisms for identifying and investigating abuses.
Yet the Buzzfeed News report claims that WWF executives were warned long before of “widespread atrocities” by anti-poaching rangers funded by the agency.
A report sent to the WWF board of directors had warned of “accelerating” allegations of abuses — including rape, torture, and murder — carried out “in connivance with and under the watchful eyes of WWF staff.”
Leaked documents also found that WWF executives made a policy of hushing up the report and addressing the issue in a “non-public fashion.”