Course:CONS200/2021/BINGOs and Conservation Refugees

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Conservation has become increasingly globalized in recent decades. In part, this is due to the strong influence of big, international NGOs that work in conservation at a global scale (BINGOs). These powerful, well-funded organizations are deeply intertwined with conservation efforts and agendas all over the globe. They partner regularly with governments, corporations, and other transnational organizations. In recent years, BINGOs have been criticized for supporting and implementing conservation policies that have resulted in the displacement of indigenous and local peoples - a practice known as "fortress conservation" by its critics. Conservation refugees, people who have been displaced due to BINGO interference, have been increasingly vocal about these injustices at international forums and meetings, and have demanded alternative conservation strategies that include Indigenous communities.

"BINGOs" and the use of protected areas

Who are the "BINGOs"?

Greenpeace is an International NGO that works with costal communities to protect their marine ecosystems

The field of conservation today is dominated by large, transnational, non-governmental organizations that are commonly known as "BINGOs" - Big International NGOs. These predominantly Euro-American based organizations have offices on every inhabited continent, and employ thousands of professionals around the world including scientists, lawyers, and educators.[1] BINGOs rely on the funds donated from their millions of members around the globe, but mainly on the sizeable donations received from corporate partnerships, large foundations and international financial institutions.[2] The 5 largest conservation NGOs spend 70% of all funds donated to conservation worldwide.[1] Aside from being well-funded, these organizations have deep and far-reaching connections in governments, corporations, and transnational organizations around the globe. The inclusion of BINGOs as respected parties in the drafting of international treaties and conventions regarding trade policy, protected area establishment, and other conservation priorities, allow these organizations to be at the forefront of conservation research and action.

Criticism of BINGOs and "Fortress Conservation"

The far-reaching influence of BINGOs has resulted in criticism from numerous parties as to the ways these organizations function. A main concern of BINGO critics is the willingness of these organizations to partner with corporations. The three largest BINGOs, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and Conservation International (CI), all have partnerships with corporations in fields ranging from cosmetics to fast food production and resource extraction.[3][4][5] These organizations maintain that these ties are central to their mission in nature preservation, TNC's official policy stating that "the private sector has an important role to play in advancing our conservation mission"[5] however, critics question whether these corporate partnerships align with the values that organizations committed to conservation and preservation claim to support.

Additionally, the role of BINGOs in conservation has been criticized as promoting a form of conservation known by critics as "Fortress Conservation". This refers to a specific conservation strategy that operates on the assumption that human presence in nature is inherently exploitative and harmful.[1] This style of conservation tends to promote the establishment of protected areas as the true means of protecting nature, spaces that are designated for the long-term protection of nature. These areas can fall under an array of classifications managed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), from areas totally restricted to human presence outside of scientific research, to spaces which allow for non-industrial use of resources, such as harvesting timber.[6] The establishment of protected areas is arguably the most widely used conservation tactic by big conservation; 27% of TNC's budget goes towards purchasing conservation easements and land around the globe.[5] Critics raise this as a concern mainly because the establishment of protected areas has resulted in the expulsion of what is estimated to be millions of Indigenous and local peoples from their traditional lands across the globe. Conservation refugees is a term created in recent decades to describe the situations of Indigenous peoples who have been displaced in the name of conservation.

Conservation Refugees and Current Remedial Actions

Who Are Conservation Refugees?

Conservation refugees are people, most commonly Indigenous communities, who have been forcefully displaced from their traditional lands and homes due to conservation efforts created such as protected areas, wildlife sanctuaries, biosphere reserves, reserved and protected forests, conservation reserves and community reserves, private protected areas, conservation areas, and national parks. These people are usually unable to return to their native lands and in turn, lose ownership and territorial autonomy of these areas. Whilst conservation efforts seem productive on a surface level, in many cases, these actions have grave impacts upon communities living in the area, due to the communities having pre-existing knowledge on land and conservation systems passed down through generations of living off and around the land.

Actions Taken by Conservation Refugees

Speaking up about the impacts that conservation has on Indigenous and local communities is often hard for conservation refugees from rural communities due to geographical limitations. BINGOs responsible for their displacements have a much larger voice so it is hard for conservation refugees to find a medium to deliver their message. However, Martin Saning'o (a Maasai representative) spoke to the panel of the 2004 Third Congress of the World Conservation Union (also known as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN] in Bangkok[7]. Martin Saning'o represented the Maasai community who had been displaced from their traditional homeland, Maasailand. Speaking to the panel, he explained that more than 100,000 Maasai pastoralists had been displaced and further stated: "We were the original conservationists, [...] now you have made us enemies of conservation"[7], which helped present the issue of BINGO involvement in conservation on a world stage.

Indigenous-Initiated Protected Areas

Indigenous-Initiated Protected Areas are regions of land and/or water where Indigenous communities are a primary role in protecting and conserving the surrounding ecosystem and biodiversity with their own Indigenous rules, laws, governance, and their existing knowledge systems of the land that has been theirs for thousands of years prior.[8] Indigenous-Initiated Protected Areas are officially created and enforced through Native-Initiated Community Conservation Areas. Although, unofficially these protected areas exist through ancient commitments to no-catch zones, crop rotation, and/or wildlife preserves[7].

Indigenous Jahai peoples in Kampung Aman Damai, Royal Belum, Perak.

Indigenous-Initiated Protected Areas were originally invented by Australian Aboriginal Peoples who for the past 30 years, the Australian Homeland Movement has helped resettle Aboriginal communities back into the land that was theirs for millennia[7]. Indigenous communities take the initiative to claim, map, and set rules that are enforce rules by them to ensure there is no exploitation and biodiversity loss. The only requirement that is set by the Australian Government is that the Indigenous residents have to develop a suitable management plan that conserves the biodiversity within the protected area[7].

Many Indigenous communities worldwide have regained ownership and territorial autonomy within their countries under new treaties with their governments. Examples of this can be seen in Mateven Forest, North-eastern Columbia, where six Indigenous tribes live in 16 Indigenous 'resguardos' along two rivers. These areas then become ecologically intact reserves. The tribes manage the conservation of the national park within the reserve and collectively own large acreage around the reserve borders[7]. Although BINGOs are still present in the reserve, they are scientists rather than rule makers, as stakeholders instead of rights-holders. Alliances such as these are much more likely to succeed, according to anthropologist James Igoe, "where Indigenous people have legal authority over natural resources and are allowed to live inside protected areas where they themselves have initiated the relationship with conservation"[7].

Co-management, whereby Indigenous communities work along side national or local government authorities has proven to be an effective conservation strategy that helps relocate Indigenous communities to their rightful land and helps enforce the rules and initiatives that Indigenous communities practice.

Examples of Co-Management Initiatives[9]
Name Country Area (km2) Estimated Resident Human Population
Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco National Park and Integrated Management Natural Area Bolivia 35,000 8,000
Cayos Miskitos and Franja Costera Marine Biological Reserve Nicaragua 13,000 25,000
Sarstoon-Temash National Park Belize 168 660
Wood Buffalo National Park Canada 44,800 NA
The Lapponian Area Sweden 9,400 250
Simen Mountain National Park Ethiopia 136 10,000
Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) National Park Nepal 1,150 3,100
Doi Inthanon National Park Thailand 482 4,500
Xishuangbanna Nature Reserve China 2,070 14,000
Kytalyk Resource Reserve Russian Federation 25,000 NA
Kakadu National Park Australia 19,804 550

Options for future remedial action(s)

From Fortress Conservation to Community Based Conservation

Although a dominating approach to conservation since the establishment of Yosemite National Park (an early installation of a large conservation area displacing numerous indigenous peoples[10]), fortress conservation has recently been challenged by the introduction of community based conservation. In the 21st century, community based conservation has become the most prevalent form of conservation, increasing in popularity following the 5th IUCN World Parks Congress in 2003[11]. At this Congress, Benefits Beyond Boundaries was the core theme, modeling an economic approach to conservation in which revenue created would be applied to support of ecosystems, wildlife, and unlike past approaches, the people who are local to the area being protected [11].

Community based conservation is an approach in which engagement with the local communities and indigenous peoples occupying the land is the core of the conservation practice[11]. In this approach, humans are considered to be a functional, intrinsic element of the ecosystem, a holistic approach challenging the dichotomous view of wilderness that Fortress conservation aims to uphold. What is often overlooked by fortress based conservationists is that these biodiversity hotspots chosen to be protected areas, have such high potential for biodiversity maintenance because of the existence of indigenous people and their land management (until they are forcefully evicted off of it). Indigenous people argue that they are in fact the best stewards of conservation because they have cultivated such rich ecosystems chosen to be protected[10].

Site Specific Understanding and TEK

Community based conservation has a variety of approaches, which is what makes it such an effective practice. Often times, the flaw of other conservation practices is that they are project based, delineated by people who know more about the fundamentals of conservation in general rather than the specific site in which they are trying to protect. The effectiveness of community based conservation is the site specific understanding that the local community is able to provide[12]. This means that the approaches will differ from site to site, and that the conservation efforts can be tailored exactly to each ecosystem. Community based conservation highlights the importance of ground knowledge, from the people who know the land best.

However, there are some basic principles and guidelines which generate a successful conservation practice. What sets native led conservation apart from other forms of conservation is the role that culture and spirituality plays. Unlike a large institution detached from the site itself, Indigenous peoples stewardship to the land stems from their reliance on the land as well as their spiritual connection to it. Indigenous people have higher incentive to preserve the land as they are connected to what they are trying to protect. In addition, Indigenous people have greater knowledge of the land, which can be referred to as traditional ecological knowledge, or TEK[10]. TEK, as defined by Mark Dowie, is the "collective botanical, zoological, hydrological, cultural and geographical knowhow, rooted in spirit, culture and language essential to the survival of a particular tribe or community in a particular habitat"[10]. Practicing and having an understanding of a community's TEK is the key to their own survival just as much as preservation. Although unique to each community, TEK has six main similarities in which can be applied to community based conservation everywhere: nature is sacred, nature is the source of all life and its importance is above economic resource, nature provides and teaches, people should not exploit the land's generosity, knowledge is constantly changing based on new discoveries and innovations, TEK is unique to each indigenous culture, and TEK is holistic[10].

Forms of Community Based Conservation

Lekki Conservation Center controlled by the Nigerian Conservation Foundation

Community based conservation has taken many forms, the most common being Community Conserved Areas (CCAs). CCAs have existed long before Fortress conservation was ever established, but have not been formally recognized as conservation areas until recently, and even now the unrecognized areas would more than double the area of earth designated as Conservation areas[10]. Some examples of CCAs include Biocultural Heritage Sites, Community Reserves, Locally Managed Marine Areas and Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs). The basis of these conservation strategies relies on the traditional practices of conservation such as community enforced no catch zones, crop rotations, community wildlife reserves, pastoral nomads, spiritual and cultural stewardship and heavy emphasis on food and water security[10].


As natural resource exploitation and habitat degradation become increasingly threatening to the preservation of the biosphere, and the wellbeing of humankind, open discourse surrounding conservation management will become more and more imperative to ensuring success in biodiversity preservation. As of now, BINGOs and their alliances with federal governments and global institutions wield the most power when it comes to deciding how, and by whom, conservation is managed. In recent years, as activists have become more outspoken at international conventions regarding the injustices experienced at the hands of BINGOS, organizations such as WWF, TNC and CI have all issued official statements of solidarity with Indigenous and local peoples.[7] This was in part inspired by the United Nation's ratification of the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) in 2007, which prohibits the forcible removement of Indigenous peoples from their traditional lands.[13] These statements are supportive on paper, but provide no immediate reassurance for change in behavior.

As more research is conducted on the establishment of Community Conservation Areas and Indigenous Protected Areas, there is hope that Indigenous and local populations may have the opportunity to practice conservation by their own autonomy in the near future. In 2018, Canada's first three Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) were established in the Northwest Territories, as collaboratively managed conservation areas between local First Nations and the federal government.[14] This may signal a shift in conservation towards more local management and autonomy, however it is unclear whether or not this will be reflected on a global scale.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Dowie, Mark (2009). Conservation Refugees: The Hundred Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples. The MIT Press. pp. xvi–xxix. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name ":3" defined multiple times with different content
  2. Holmes, George (21 May 2010). "The Rich, the Powerful and the Endangered: Conservation Elites, Networks and the Dominican Republic". Wiley Online Library.
  3. WWF Global Partnerships Report (PDF). WWF. 2020. p. 9.
  4. "Corporate Engagements". Conservation International. June 30, 2018. Retrieved March 16th, 2021. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "The Nature Conservancy (TNC)". Influence Watch. 2021. Retrieved March 17th, 2021. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  6. "Protected Area Categories". IUCN. Retrieved March 18th 2021. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 Dowie, Mark (March 2010). "Conservation Refugees".
  8. David Suzuki Foundation (August 2018). "Tribal Parks and Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas: Lessons Learned from B.C. Examples" (PDF).
  9. Beltrán, Javier (2000). Indigenous and Traditional Peoples and Protected Areas: Principles, Guidelines and Case Studies. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, UK and WWF International, Gland, Switzerland. p. 24. ISBN 2-8317-0547-9.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 Dowie, Mark (2011). Conservation refugees: the hundred-year conflict between global conservation and native peoples. MIT press.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Montgomery, Robert A and Borona (2020). "Positioning human heritage at the center of conservation practice". Conservation Biology. 34: 1122--1130 – via Wiley Online Library.
  12. Rai, Nitin D; Devy, M Soubadra (2021). "Beyond fortress conservation: The long-term integration of natural and social science research for an inclusive conservation practice in India". Biological Conservation. 254: 108888 – via Elsevier.
  13. "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples". UN. Retrieved April 9th 2021. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  14. "Edéhzhíe Protected Area". Government of Canada. December 9th, 2020. Check date values in: |date= (help)

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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