OPINION: How Conservation Groups Became Colonial

Updated: Mar 9

By Federico Pastoris

 
For years, WWF has been organizing safari tours in Ngorongoro. They have played a role in supporting various government- led conservation initiatives and funding the militarization and policing of the conservation area.


Since their inception, WWF and other big conservation organisations have driven and participated in the evictions of millions of Indigenous peoples from their ancestral homelands, for purposes of “conservation”. Atrocities have been committed in the belief that humans must be separate from nature, and only Western scientists can “manage” the land.

In Tanzania, the devastating role of these ‘conservation’ groups is keenly felt. In April 2021 the Tanzanian government announced new eviction plans to relocate over 80,000 residents, mostly indigenous Maasai, from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). The eviction was part of the government’s new Multiple Land Use Management (MLUM) and resettlement plan, designed in consultation with UNESCO World Heritage Center, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, (IUCN) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).

The displacement has emerged following a mission report published by these three organizations in March 2019. It urged the Tanzanian government to control population growth in Ngorongoro, which it claimed was directly responsible for the area’s environmental degradation. It is a common refrain in conservation: that the growth of Indigenous communities is damaging the land they live on. As recently as 2020, the IUCN described the increase in the resident population alongside their livestock and the socio-cultural changes as the greatest threat to the ecosystems of the NCA.


The plan, which will divide the NCA into four zones, would greatly reduce the area within the NCA where Maasai are allowed to live and use for livestock grazing and crop cultivation. It will force entire communities to relocate into areas that, according to Maasai leaders, cannot sustain their traditional livelihoods.

 

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Yet concerns about population growth aren’t the sole focus of the eviction. A recent report by the Oakland Institute found that the plan “envisions that the ‘protection’ of the NCA will boost the area’s appeal for international wildlife tourism — UNESCO has in the past even advocated for evicting all inhabitants of the NCA while preserving the bomas, structures that the Maasai have traditionally built as housing and cattle enclosures, for their tourist value. As the MLUM explicitly acknowledges, by ‘maintaining the status quo or leaving the NCA to Indigenous pastoralists the government would lose 50 percent of expected revenue by 2038’”.

As one of our Maasai partners, Samwel Nangiria, said: “The government intends to divide up Ngorongoro and create a no-go zone, depriving Maasai access to important grazing areas, natural salt leaks and sacred sites. At the same time, the government is allowing trophy hunting in conservation areas. The task force that produced the report involved only one Maasai representative; yet if this eviction goes through, it will cause irreparable socio-economic and environmental damages to the Maasai community, including losing our homeland.”


While UNESCO, the IUCN, and the ICOMOS have been the main organizations advising and supporting the resettlement plan, WWF is also complicit. WWF has a significant presence in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, since the area lies within a WWF Global 200 Freshwater Eco-Region.



For years, WWF has been organizing safari tours in Ngorongoro. They have played a role in supporting various government- led conservation initiatives which are responsible for the violence and abuse that Maasai communities are experiencing, as NCA authorities continue restricting access to areas key to their livelihood and cultural practices.

What is happening in Tanzania is nothing new. Indigenous people and local communities around the world could be affected on a massive scale if, in October, world leaders agree to the 30x30 initiative at the Convention on Biological Diversity summit.

The initiative aims to turn 30% of the Earth into “Protected Areas” by 2030. Indigenous groups, alongside the Oakland Institute have rightly warned that this model of ‘fortress conservation’ would constitute the biggest landgrab in history.



If you want to learn more about the work of WTF WWF check out their website and keep up to date with their campaigns on their twitter. The opinions expressed in this piece are the author's own and are not a reflection of the views of the Radical Art Review's editorial team.

 

WTF WWF are a youth and Indigenous-led grassroots campaign challenging WWF’s colonial conservation practices while advocating for a justice-based conservation model centred around local community leadership and indigenous rights over their respective customary lands. This is the model we need to survive the climate crisis.