The Darker Side of Conservation: Mistreatment of Indigenous People

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The protection of land is a crucial issue in a world that is rapidly losing its ecosystem, but amid this campaign, there’s a deeper moralistic problem that urgently needs addressing. The plight of indigenous people across the globe and the inhumane treatment they are subjected to is being ignored in favour of praising wildlife conservation programmes.

Accusations of poaching and hunting has meant that the Baka Tribe of Cameroon face arrest, torture and even death at the hands of park guards, supposedly in the defence of conservation. These rangers, funded by the internationally acclaimed WWF (World Wildlife Fund), are attempting to degrade and dehumanise the tribal people who are simply trying to feed their family. Similarly, on the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, former President Khama’s crackdown on poaching saw the eviction of bushmen who had tended the land for generations. And what did he do with this land? Cultivated the landscape? Cared for the wildlife? Not even close. Khama (pictured below), who was invited to join the United for Wildlife coalition, built a $4.9 billion diamond mine. The only thing this man was conserving was his bank account.

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These examples are just a tiny fraction of the sustained brutality that is experienced worldwide. Uncontacted tribes are some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, not because they are somehow less evolved, but their lands are being invaded and their livelihoods threatened. The longer we perpetuate the myth that indigenous people are inferior to the typical modern-day human, the more likely it is that racist attitudes will prevail and the future of the environment will become increasingly fragile.

To the victims of forced migration, this attitude is reminiscent of an imperial era, creating further tensions and a severe clash of cultures. If environmentalists were to work alongside the indigenous people, they would find the solutions to conservation challenges much easier to come by. The Baka are experts on their land and their strict codes relating to hunting mean there’s no risk of animal extinction. Furthermore, tribal communities in some of the world’s most famous areas, like the Amazon and Yellowstone, have sophisticated tactics for maintaining the environment. It is no coincidence that 80% of the most biodiverse lands on the planet are home to indigenous and tribal people – it’s their way of life and conservationists should learn from their example. The arrogance of modern-day environmentalists is causing more harm than good when it comes to protecting endangered species and lands.

In these circumstances, there are good intentions on both sides of the debate, meaning there don’t have to be winners and losers. The majority of conservationists and tribal communities desire the same thing – to protect and preserve nature. Pitfalls occur when violence is adopted, and elitist conservationists value their cause over the heritage of indigenous communities.

Ultimately, this isn’t about pitching conservation against human rights or elevating the value of a human above that of wildlife – the two must go hand in hand if we are to protect our planet. Without tribes, there’s no nature and without this biodiversity, there’s little hope for all our futures. Instead of persecuting the very people who can protect the environment, we must recognise that tribal communities are the best conservationists for the job.

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Third year History student with a passion for journalism. I have a particular interest in minority rights, historical comparisons and current affairs. Unapologetic feminist.

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