The Latest Big Conservation Lie

Bushmen at the government eviction camp of New Xade, Botswana. © Survival International

Conservation NGOs exploit Covid19 to demand more protected areas, which will actually make pandemics worse.


Although there is no known connection between Covid19 and either hunting for food or deforestation, conservation NGOs now cite the pandemic to insist on both a ban on wildlife consumption and the creation of more “Protected Areas” (PAs). They want them doubled, and will target places they think are “wilderness.”

The problem with such PAs in Africa and Asia is that they take the highly-biodiverse lands of Indigenous and other local people and forbid them from using them. This is how national parks were first created in the 1860s USA and is known as “fortress conservation” (fencing off land and stopping local people using it).

Conservationists want 30% of the globe under PAs. If this is allowed, it’s far more likely to worsen pandemics than prevent them. That’s because it threatens taking the lands of many tens of millions of people who would be driven away from their self-sufficiency as hunters, herders or subsistence agriculturalists, with survivors left with few options but to migrate to urban slums and become dependent on mass-produced food. Yet, both urban overcrowding and industrial food production have clearly contributed to the evolution and spread of contagious new diseases and others – such as “mad cow disease” – created in food production. 

“Fortress conservation” is an ecofascist ideology, originally incorporating “scientific racism” and eugenics, in which élite people (usually “white” and/or rich) are seen as more important than others who are believed to be a threat to “nature” and whose population must therefore be reduced or their ways of life forcibly altered. In reality, it is the same élite that is most responsible for the overconsumption which creates the principal threats to nature – the climate crisis and biodiversity loss. “Fortress conservation” destroys people.

The encroaching industrialization of rural areas and deforestation must be stopped, both to conserve biodiversity and reduce climate chaos, but this is best done by enforcing Indigenous land rights. These peoples are the best conservationists of all.

There is no evidence that pandemics will be reduced by fencing off more protected areas or banning poor people hunting to feed their families.