Record High Number Of Environmental Activists Murdered In 2020


Rachael Funnell

Digital Content Producer

clockSep 13 2021, 17:41 UTC

Illegal logging was associated with the highest number of murders. Image credit: Richard Whitcombe/

A harrowing report from campaign group Global Witness has revealed that a record number of environmental and conservation activists were murdered in 2020, accounting for the deaths of 227 people. The count marks two consecutive years of record-high murders within this group, with illegal logging being linked to the highest number of killings. While many push for better protection for these environmental defenders, some of those lost are being remembered in the naming of new species.

Global Witness has been collecting data on killings of land and environmental defenders since 2012. Their findings thus far appear to suggest that as the climate crisis intensifies, violent crimes against those working to protect the planet are worsening. In 2020, an average of more than four activists working for ecosystems were killed each week, with over half of the total number of murders happening in Colombia, Mexico, and the Philippines.


The report from Global Witness demonstrates that the attacks disproportionately affected Indigenous peoples, accounting for a third of those murdered. The statistic is particularly disturbing in light of the fact that Indigenous peoples make up 5 percent of the world’s population, and yet they fell victim to five out of the seven mass killings of environmental defenders recorded in 2020.

“Each killing is a complex and deeply personal tragedy, rooted in a predatory economic model driven by greed,” reads the report. “It might feel morbid to record and analyse each death of a land and environmental defender. But it’s important to understand what connects these seemingly disparate cases – the water defenders murdered in northern Mexico, to the South African grandmother shot dead outside her home seemingly for rejecting the expansion of a nearby coal mine.

“Analysing the whole dataset helps us understand the overlap between the causes of these attacks, what they represent, what’s at stake and the actions that governments and companies must take to prevent them.”

The cloud forest in Cusuco National Park in Honduras, where the new species were discovered. Image credit: BINCO npo 2021

To commemorate the lives of some of those lost, a recent study named some new-to-science species found in the Cusuco National Park, Honduras, in honor of conservation activists who have been murdered in the region. Deforestation for wood extraction and conversion to coffee plantations are key threats to the cloud forests of Honduras, but the onus falls to community ranger patrols to keep loggers at bay putting them at risk. According to Global Witness, more than 120 activists have been murdered since 2010 in Honduras.


In a new paper published in the European Journal of Taxonomy, researchers have named four new species of longhorn beetle in honor of some of those killed in the region. Heterachthes caceresae is named after Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores who opposed illegal logging but was murdered in her home in March 2016.

Oreodera kawasae is named after Blanca Jeannette Kawas Fernández who co-established the Prolansate Foundation that strives to protect the environment while also improving living standards for local communities. She was also murdered in her home in February 1995.

The four newly described species of longhorns. fltr fttb: Oreodera kawasae, Strangalia lunai, Phrynidius guifarroi, and Heterachthes caceresae. Image credit: BINCO npo 2021

Phrynidius guifarroi is named after Mario Guifarro, a hunter and gold miner who turned to conservation after seeing the degradation of rainforests in Honduras. He was murdered in Moskitia in 2007 while establishing a protected area. Finally, Strangalia lunai is named after Carlos Antonio Luna Lùopez, an environmental activist who was murdered in Catacamas, May 1998.

“Deforestation in Honduras is a pressing issue, and the forests of CNP are disappearing at an alarming rate,” reads a press release about their discovery. “Naming these cloud forest species after these environmentalists will hopefully help draw some attention to the perilous situation in Honduras for natural ecosystems and the people that try to protect them.”


[H/T: Guardian]


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