BuzzFeed News published a shocking exposé on Monday, in which it alleged that one of the world’s largest and most respected environmental organizations, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), has supported anti-poaching guards “who have tortured and killed people.” Immediately two leading Democratic Members of Congress called for an investigation into these allegations because WWF receives funding from the government to help fight wildlife trafficking. WWF pledged “an ‘independent review’ led by human rights specialists into the evidence uncovered by BuzzFeed News.”
Given the seriousness of the charges, we will not paraphrase the article. Here is a key excerpt: “A yearlong BuzzFeed News investigation across six countries — based on more than 100 interviews and thousands of pages of documents, including confidential memos, internal budgets, and emails discussing weapons purchases — can reveal:
- Villagers have been whipped with belts, attacked with machetes, beaten unconscious with bamboo sticks, sexually assaulted, shot, and murdered by WWF-supported anti-poaching units, according to reports and documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.
- The charity’s field staff in Asia and Africa have organized anti-poaching missions with notoriously vicious shock troops, and signed off on a proposal to kill trespassers penned by a park director who presided over the killings of dozens of people.
- WWF has provided paramilitary forces with salaries, training, and supplies — including knives, night vision binoculars, riot gear, and batons — and funded raids on villages. In one African country, it embroiled itself in a botched arms deal to buy assault rifles from a brutal army that has paraded the streets with the severed heads of alleged ‘criminals.’
- The charity has operated like a global spymaster, organizing, financing, and running dangerous and secretive networks of informants motivated by ‘fear’ and ‘revenge,’ including within indigenous communities, to provide park officials with intelligence — all while publicly denying working with informants.”
The authors of the investigation explain that WWF works in more than 100 countries fighting against poachers who are well-armed and highly dangerous — the organization “expends much of its energy — and money — in a global battle against the organized criminal gangs that prey on the endangered species the charity was founded to protect.” Indeed, the authors recognize that “poaching is a billion-dollar industry that terrorizes animals and threatens some species’ very existence” and that the poachers strike often in “regions ravaged by poverty and violence.” But, says BuzzFeed News, “time and again, indigenous groups — both small-fry hunters and innocent bystanders — say they suffer at the hands of the rangers.”
Why This Matters: One of the gravest threat to wildlife — particularly charismatic endangered species like elephants and rhinos — is poaching. And fighting wildlife trafficking has become more dangerous and deadly in the last decade, as the poachers and the guards are increasingly well-armed using the weapons and tactics of war. Indeed, since 2009, “871 the total number of wildlife guardians who have lost their lives protecting wildlife in Africa and Asia,” according to the International Ranger Federation (IRF) and the Thin Green Line Foundation. Wildlife trafficking is terrible and must be fought. But if these allegations are true, then WWF must take swift action to root out the bad actors in its organization and rebuild trust with the impacted communities. The fight to save wildlife is too important for this kind of violence against innocent civilians to undermine it.