Atrocities prompt US authorities to halt funding to WWF, WCS in major blow to conservation industry

October 2, 2020

© Fiore Longo/Survival

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The US government has halted more than $12 million of funding to WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other conservation NGOs in a major blow to the conservation industry. The move follows a bipartisan US investigation into whether federal conservation funds supported anti-poaching guards implicated in human rights abuses in Africa.

Many of these organizations are behind the creation and running of Protected Areas in Africa and Asia (including the notorious Messok Dja) that have ruined the lives of thousands of tribal and local people.

The news was revealed in a leaked government document that also details how conservation organisations such as WWF failed to inform the US government that programs it was funding were responsible for serious human rights abuses in many countries.

WWF has been working in the Congo Basin for over 20 years – supporting squads who have committed violent abuse against tribal people. © WWF

In a bombshell for the conservation industry long called for by tribal peoples and Survival International, the leaked memo announces groundbreaking rules on how projects designed to protect nature can be funded, including:

- Conservation organizations will no longer receive federal funds unless they have the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples.

- The US will no longer fund eco-guards, law enforcement or “activities related to relocating communities, voluntarily or involuntarily.”

The memo, from the US Deputy Secretary of the Interior Kate MacGregor, is dated September 18th and contains numerous revelations including:

- US government funding was misused by conservation organizations for purposes prohibited under US laws. These include murder, severe torture, multiple rapes, and abuse.

- WWF and other organizations hid the knowledge of these abuses from the US authorities whose funds they were receiving.

- Conservation organizations refused to cooperate with federal investigators; withheld reports that documented the abuses; and were effectively auditing themselves.

The extent of the abuses described in the report, involving a number of international conservation organizations, demonstrates the scale of human rights violations in conservation projects and the abject failure of international funding bodies to monitor them.

Stephen Corry, Survival’s Director said today: “WWF and other big conservation NGOs have been well aware of their responsibility for gross human rights violations for decades. Survival first pointed them out over 30 years ago. Over the last half century I’ve personally confronted dozens of corporations and governments about their abuse of tribal peoples’ rights. None have been as duplicitous as these big conservation NGOs. These violations ultimately damage our world too. They destroy the planet’s best defenders. “Fortress conservation” must be stopped, and conservationists’ current demand to turn 30% of the Earth into Protected Areas must be rejected.”


- This news comes days after the UN Summit on Biodiversity, where numerous heads of government supported WWF and WCS’s call to declare 30% of the Earth as Protected Areas by 2030. The revelations in the leaked report demonstrate how dangerous this would be.

- The new measures mean that the US government can no longer fund WCS-India’s project supporting the so-called “voluntary relocation” of Indigenous communities. A letter from Jenu Kuruba villages threatened with eviction, calling on the US authorities to stop “aiding and abetting the government and WCS’s plans to evict us from our forests,” has been sent to the US Fish and Wildlife Service more than 20 times, but is yet to receive a response.