When Conservation Threatens Indigenous Peoples

But the Maasai of Loliondo are not alone in disputing these supposed benefits. Worldwide, 8 million square miles—a landmass almost as large as the entire African continent—have been classified as protected areas by governments and conservation groups. In turn, the locals have mostly been pushed off their lands. Though no one formally counts people displaced for the sake of environmental preservation, data from the UN and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature on park footprints and population density estimate that the total number of removed people could be near 20 million.

These are our world’s conservation refugees—from the Dominican Republic to Kenya, Bolivia to Brazil. They are the Batwa of Uganda, who were forced out of their native forests when they were falsely accused of killing silverback gorillas. Many are now squatters without access to water or sanitation, living on the edge of parks that protect the great apes. They are the Hmong of northern Thailand, who were plunged into food shortage when the government, under pressure from the UN’s Global Environment Facility, created a national park system. This presaged the arrival of men with guns, giving them no option but to give up their way of life.

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky writing for Vice about the dark side of ecotourism and how it has affected Tanzania’s Masai people.

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