WWF, you are the most well-known environmental organisations in the world: you have great power and an even greater responsibility. However, time and again your projects have dispossessed and abused Indigenous and local communities. You claim that they endanger the ecosystems they have cared for long before you entered their lands. On the other hand, you collaborate with the very same corporations that actually destroy biodiversity, greenwashing their destructive practices. For the sake of justice and the survival of ecosystems worldwide, stop legitimising violence and human rights abuses in the name of conservation. Instead, become an ally to Indigenous people, local communities, and the Global Majority.
For too long you have been dividing humans from nature by building walls; imposing a colonial model called ‘Fortress conservation’, which places conservation in direct conflict with human rights.
You dictate who is “unauthorised” in the lands you enter. You fund, train and legitimise militarised eco-guards who violently evict local communities from their homes. You act on the dangerous and false colonial ideology that perceives human presence as a threat to the ecosystem, except if they are wealthy, predominantly white tourists. You demonise and prevent indigenous and local people from hunting sustainably to feed themselves, but have encouraged trophy hunting for super-rich tourists. This model, based on separation and colonial values, is a violent lie that supports white supremacy – it is, to put it simply, ecofascism.
Fortress conservation is putting us all in danger, as it is further destroying the connection between land and people. It is destroying the cultures who have taken care of and regenerated that land for hundreds of years. This makes you complicit in the historic colonial violence against local and indigenous communities. Their cultures hold rich and powerful counterstories that teach the interdependence and deep connection between humans, the earth and all beings, which so many of us need to rediscover.
This failure of WWF concerns us all because it directly affects both the people and the planet. A recent report by an independent panel of experts shows a shocking history of murder, rape, torture, and violence committed by the eco-guards that WWF funds, equips and manages. This report goes even further in revealing that you have had knowledge of this, yet you continue to fund them. This is simply appalling.
From the Republic of Congo to Nepal, and India to Cameroon, these are not a few ‘bad apples’ but inherent aspects of the oppressive colonial conservation model you employ, and that dominates the conservation sector. Communities are losing their lands, their homes and ways of life, threatening them with starvation, disease and the loss of their human dignity. Dividing communities from their land and livelihoods will always be violent.
Many of the people on your boards are financing, working or lobbying for some of the most environmentally destructive companies on Earth. How can the same people who are destroying the global ecosystem lead and fund its preservation? It’s absurd that we need to say this, but the people leading you should not be those profiting from ecocide.
To put it bluntly, WWF has a profound conflict of interest, and is working with, rather than against, those destroying life on Earth. Rather than challenging those industries, you greenwash them, allowing them to expand their destruction. It is pitiful for an environmental organisation to simply ask companies to slow down their destruction of our home: you must join the global environmental movement in demanding they stop immediately!
WWF, you have betrayed the Global Family. In frontline communities your betrayal means violence. To your supporters your betrayal means broken promises and complicity.
Your organisation has sold us the image of being the ‘good guys’ in an evil world of environmental destruction. From an early age, your iconic panda has playfully filled our cultural consciousness; clambering into our classrooms; filling our shelves with fluffy tokenistic toys, and our minds with idealised imagery of the “pristine wilderness” that serves your marketing strategy.
We entrusted you with the fight for the planet, raising tens of millions of pounds from our pockets as public donors in the UK alone. Yet rather than using this power to support the mobilisation of social and ecological movements of solidarity, you use the power of marketing; you sell us the ridiculous story that simply purchasing, petitioning and running marathons will “save the planet”! You reduce activism to mass consumption – the rotten core of the environmental crisis – making your supporters’ actions hollow and meaningless. You take the struggle for survival of life on earth and make it into a brand. You then use our money, our agency and our validation to make us complicit in outrageous acts of violence and human rights abuses against our brothers and sisters around the world. Through you, we too become tools of fortress conservation and capitalism’s violence.
However, we in the Minority World/Global North are not the real victims of your betrayal. Your failure to serve those with the capacity of preserving the ecosystems you claim to protect is your betrayal to humanity. Those communities are the heart of the resistance to ecocide.
The same people you are persecuting have been caring for the land, their home, for hundreds of years, and are essential to its flourishing. There is increasingly clear evidence on the key role of indigenous communities in already safeguarding 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity, and therefore many conservation bodies call on all organisations to support their land rights. Often Indigenous and community-managed lands have even higher biodiversity and less deforestation than national parks and wildlife reserves. They don’t only slow down degradation, but actually improve the state of the ecosystem. By ignoring these scientific facts you are harming nature – the very thing you claim to be protecting. Why are you oppressing the people who are doing conservation better than you?
WWF, you must advocate for the land and human rights of local and indigenous communities, supporting their cultural, political and ecological work. Even if a community is degrading their ecosystem, any conservation initiative must be led by a dialogue among equals working together. It must support local livelihoods, and enable community-led learning for regeneration that is based on equity and justice. Ultimately, conservation works best when local communities are empowered at the heart of their local environments.
You are already taking steps in this direction in Latin America; so why do you attack communities elsewhere? You must not simply “involve” communities in an imposed neoliberal agenda based on ‘development’ and markets – the very same things that destroy our planet.
You must rethink your role as a supporting one: you are not the protagonist in this story. Right now, in fact, you’re the villain. Effective stories of conservation must be co-written and led by the visions, decisions, knowledge and guidance of indigenous and local communities.
WWF, you know the ecological catastrophe we face: yet its urgency must not be reacted to with your current eco-fascist ‘solutions’. If we do not challenge the crisis appropriately, the suffering and deaths will be devastating. You also know that Indigenous’ and local communities’ land rights and cultures are fundamental to the health of their ecosystems, and to their resistance to the corporations that degrade them. Greenwashing and small technical fixes won’t solve this crisis: we need a transformation of our global consciousness that decolonizes the ways we understand and promote conservation. If you keep attacking Indigenous and local communities, working with polluting industries and the governments who serve them, you will continue to be complicit in the ecological catastrophe and guilty of ecofascism. You will continue to fail to represent or be in solidarity with the global environmental and social justice movement.
The best hope for our survival and flourishing is for conservationists to unite with the Indigenous resistance movement, and fight the environmental destruction of governments and industry. Whose side are you on in this struggle for the survival of life on Earth?
We will not stop challenging the WWF to radically dismantle its colonial approach to conservation, until they join us in enacting the following demands:
1- STOP THE HARM:
Immediately stop dispossessing indigenous and local communities of their land. Cease any collaboration or support to organisations and security forces that evict local communities.
2- GROUND CONSERVATION IN JUSTICE:
Transition all your fortress conservation projects to the support of genuine indigenous-led and community-led conservation. Projects must actively advocate and be based upon: recognising land rights, local knowledge, local livelihoods, and social justice. Use your platform and financial leverage to advocate these changes across the whole conservation sector.
3- BE ACCOUNTABLE:
Be accountable by giving control of project funding to local communities, through their own democratic/collective processes. Be transparent through systems of direct people-to-people communication, such as people’s assemblies, between local communities and your supporters.
4- END TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS:
Stop the conflict of interests with those destroying ecosystems: cut financial links with large corporations; fire board members from polluting industries; use your platform to mobilize people to take action and demand an end to corporate ecocide.
Centre for the Anthropology of Sustainability, University College London
Pan-African Living Cultures Alliance (PALCA)
Integrated development Initiatives in Ngorongoro-IDINGO
Front Commun pour la Protection de l’Environnement et des Espaces Protégés
Ole Siosiomaga Society Incorporated (OLSSI), SAMOA
Fondation Internationale pour le Développement l’Education l’Entreprenariat et la Protection de l’Environnement (FIDEPE)
Pastoral Peace Reconciliation Initiative (PPRI)
XR Anti-Oppression Circle
Rogerio Cumbane/MAKOMANE-ADM (Association for Community Development)
XR Internationalist Solidarity Network (XRISN)
Skogsupproret –Forest Rebellion)
Integrated development Initiatives in Ngorongoro (IDINGO)
Arturo Escobar (Professor of Anthropology)
Katy Molloy (Flourishing Diversity)
Fe Haslam (Global Justice Forum – GJF)
Francis Shomet Olenaingi’sa
Fiore Longo – Survival International
Fiu Mataese Elisara – Executive Director of OLSSI
Romao Xavier – Programme and Advocacy Coordinator
SHAPIOM NONINGO- Technical Secretary GTANW
Jose Ines Loria Palma – President of the San Crisanto Foundation
Elena Kreuzberg – Consultant on Environmental Issues
Maurizio Farhan Ferrari – Senior Policy Adviser on Environmental Governance
KOAGNE Clovis – Coordinateur Général Fondation Internationale pour le Développement l’Education l’Entreprenariat et la Protection de l’Environnement (FIDEPE)