The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is one of conservation’s most famous and beloved organizations, but the powerful NGO now faces allegations of supporting vicious paramilitaries and violent guards as part of their war against poaching.
A year-long investigation by Buzzfeed News and The Kathmandu Post claims to have exposed the widespread use of torture, waterboarding, violence, murder, and sexual assault by anti-poaching guards who have been funded and supported by the WWF. Using over 100 interviews, internal budgets, and confidential memos, the huge investigation details a variety of abuses in at least six countries across Asia and Africa.
In response, the WWF says it has launched an “independent review” of the investigation's findings, saying many of the report's claims don't match their understanding of the events.
As one example, the authors of the report say villagers in Nepal reported tortures, sexual assaults, and murders at the hands of Nepalese soldiers at Chitwan National Park, who received assistance from the WWF to protect the area’s one-horned rhinoceroses and other endangered species. The WWF even gave the army battalion an award for their efforts against poaching.
Another account says that an 11-year-old was tortured by WWF-backed forest rangers at the Lobéké National Park in Cameroon. The charity is also accused of providing violent paramilitary forces with salaries, training, and supplies, including knives and riot gear.
In one of the most shocking findings from the investigation, the report alleges the WWF became involved in a “botched arms deal” with a notorious army in the Central African Republic (CAR), well-known for horrific human rights abuses, including parading the severed heads of alleged criminals through the streets.
Indigenous communities take the brunt of this violence because regulations allow them to be classed as “poachers” when they hunt animals in their ancestral lands to feed or protect their families. In many instances, these stringent laws are used to justify violence even if no wrongdoing has occurred.
Survival International, an indigenous rights group, has made similar accusations against the WWF in the past. Their work claims to have exposed how numerous tribes in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and the Republic of Congo have been abused or killed by WWF-funded anti-poaching squads.
“This is the scandal that WWF has been covering up for decades. Its supporters’ money is spent on funding violent and abusive ecoguards who assault, torture and even kill tribal people with impunity,” Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, said in a statement.
He added, “Will WWF continue with 'business as normal' after these truly shocking revelations, or will it, finally, actually address the problem?“
In light of the investigation, the WWF released a statement saying: “We see it as our urgent responsibility to get to the bottom of the allegations BuzzFeed has made, and we recognize the importance of such scrutiny. With this in mind, and while many of BuzzFeed’s assertions do not match our understanding of events, we have commissioned an independent review into the matters raised.”
You can read the detailed Buzzfeed News investigation here.