Cover up: Buzzfeed reveals WWF KNEW locals opposed its flagship park – but hid this from funders.

A man from a village near the proposed Messok Dja national park shows scars from a beating he received at the hands of ecoguards supported and funded by WWF

A man from a village near the proposed Messok Dja national park shows scars from a beating he received at the hands of ecoguards supported and funded by WWF
© Fiore Longo/Survival

A new Buzzfeed investigation into WWF has shown that the charity knew local people opposed its flagship project to create a huge national park in the Congo – but hid this from the EU, who had given it €1million for the scheme.

A consultant who WWF commissioned to ask local people, including the Baka hunter-gatherers, their opinion of the proposed Messok Dja National Park found that many opposed it, and “associate this initiative with the rise in repression from eco-guards.”

The consultant’s report, obtained by Buzzfeed, went on to say: “They systematically associate it with the idea that they cannot access the forest anymore.” Locals blamed WWF for the actions of eco-guards and were therefore “very hesitant” to speak to the consultant “out of mistrust.”

These passages, however, were removed from WWF’s submission to the EU, which reported “Overall, communities of the study area remain favorable to the creation of a protected area in Messok Dja.”

Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry said today: “This latest investigation by Buzzfeed reveals a conscious attempt by WWF to hide from its funders the fact that many local people were strongly opposed to the Messok Dja park.

“This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone – all they had to do was go and ask the Baka in the area, which Survival has done repeatedly. They consistently voice their opposition, and have already experienced countless abuses at the hands of rangers funded by WWF.

“The Baka have themselves written to the EU, and to the scheme’s other big supporter, the UNDP, to tell them they oppose the park.

“If WWF has a shred of integrity left it must now announce it’s scrapping its scheme to turn Messok Dja into a protected area, and instead ask the Baka how it can help them to protect the forests they’ve looked after for so long.”

And Michel, a Baka man from Messok Dja, told Survival in 2018: “We have suffered so much. When you go into the forest they beat you, they [park rangers] destroy your house. We just want to be in peace in the forest.”