Benjamin de Rothschild and the pygmies: Hunting and human rights abuses
November 2, 2016
In Cameroon you can shoot yourself a forest elephant for a meagre 55,000 euros in the morning, then relax in your air conditioned chalet in the middle of the jungle by night. What more, this elephant carcass and jungle chalet experience also comes with the tint of human rights abuses; including, but not limited to, forced evictions and torture. What fun!
According to Survival International, an organisation dedicated to promoting the rights of tribal peoples, the French billionaire Benjamin de Rothschild is implicated in all this. He is the joint owner of the hunting operation in question.
A Baka campement chief. Photo by Arnaud DG, Flickr CC.
Survival claims that Baka "pygmies" were persecuted to create this hunting lodge. It's said they were forced from their traditional land, their camps burned so they would not return, and told they faced being shot on sight if they cross the "protected" land to hunt, gather plants or visit religious sights. Members of the Baka who ignored this warning were beaten by local police, soldiers and wildlife guards.
Survival say one Baka man told them: "They told me to carry my father on my back, I started walking, [the guard] beat me, he beat my father. For three hours, every time I cried out they would beat me, until I fainted and fell to the ground with my father."
This is not the first time that wildlife guards have been implicated in human rights abuses against the Baka. "Eco-guards", funded by WWF, were said to have beaten other members earlier this year.
In an article for Vice, Matt Smith writes that the problem dates back to the 90s when WWF pressured Cameroon to create protected areas. But within these areas the Baka became the enemy. Their presence and lifestyle ran contrary to the demands of conservation, or rather to the presence of trophy hunting.
"Now the Baka are being illegally evicted in these areas and criminalized when they hunt," Mike Hurran of Survival said. "When they're found hunting, they risk being harassed, intimated, beaten up, even tortured or perhaps even killed by anti-poaching squads, who are also funded by WWF."
Survival's Director Stephen Corry poses the question of why so few people are speaking out against these abuses. It is perhaps due to the fact that our television screens are bombarded with images of dying elephants and burning ivory, scenes that elicit such emotion that we are compelled to act. But the plight of an indigenous peoples "lost" somewhere in the forests of Africa is just another story that is unlikely to have people paying a monthly subscription to ensure these indigenous people continue to hunt for their living.
Psuedo "protected areas" such as these areas, which are often in fact no more than swanky, jungle hunting lodges, appear little more than a front to maintain an age-old colonial structure which we all like to think died out last century. Better think again about that one, the proof runs in the blood of the elephants dying to feed a trophy market which is seemingly more acceptable than the ivory trade and in the blood of these people who previously lived off the land.
It is often said that this form of trophy hunting is a suitable way of conserving animals. The IUCN itself supports the notion: "Well-managed trophy hunting can provide both revenue and incentives for people to conserve and restore wild populations, maintain areas of land for conservation, and protect wildlife from poaching" it says. Opinion is largely divided on whether trophy hunting is helping to conserve endangered species. For an overview of the subject see this article in National Geographic.
But we musn't forget that this is not only about the animals, that the Baka people are paying for this hunting "conservation", even with their own lives. The idea now seems to be that indigenous peoples are not fit to run their own land, and in order to conserve it there must be some added monetary value that can be siphoned off. Yes, hunting lodges may benefit communities financially, and yes, it may keep wild areas in a state of semi-wilderness. But would they not be better maintained in the hands of people who have lived off the land for centuries? It seems that the current logic prefers such land to be in the hand of French billionaires.
Survival claim to have contacted Rothschild and WWF for comment but received no reply.