The human cost of conservation

CEESP News: Rainforest Foundation UK

A new report published in December 2017 by the Rainforest Foundation UK exposes the impacts of two national parks on local and indigenous communities in the Republic of Congo.

Local and indigenous communities living in and around Nouabale Ndoki and Conkouati Douli national parks, in Republic of Congo, are paying a heavy price for the conservation measures that have been imposed on them, a report by the Rainforest Foundation UK reveals.

The human impact of conservation RFUK report

The report, entitled The Human Cost of Conservation in Republic of Congo: Conkouati-Douli and Nouabalé-Ndoki National Parks and their Impact on the Rights and Livelihoods of Forest Communities, is based on investigations by the Rainforest Foundation UK’s local civil society partners within six forest communities living in or on the periphery of these two parks, which have been largely shaped by the intervention of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The human impact of conservation RFUK report portrait Photo: RFUK

Conkouati-Douli and Nouabalé-Ndoki national parks are located in south-western and northern Republic of Congo, respectively, and together represent an area of nearly one million hectares – about half the size of Wales. Both parks have received millions of dollars in funding from conservation organisations and international aid agencies.

But the research team found a number of serious issues regarding how the parks were managed on the ground with regard to local communities’ land rights, livelihoods and basic human rights.

The parks have been established and largely run without the consent and engagement of local communities. Conservation-related restrictions also make it difficult for these communities to meet their subsistence activities, which is creating a lot of resentment.

In both parks, tensions between communities and park management authorities – typically in the form of eco-guards – are high, leading sometimes to serious conflict. This is the consequence of a pattern of recurring abuses of power, intimidating and harassing behaviour (including physical violence), application of arbitrary sanctions, and unfair treatment of forest dwellers by eco-guards. 

In one particularly severe case (dating back to 2009), three villagers were killed, and two others badly wounded, by bullets fired by eco-guards. Victims and their families are still awaiting justice.

In a another very recent case, documented by the Rainforest Foundation UK and its local partners in November 2017, a man died after having been beaten and abused by eco-guards working for Nouabale-Ndoki National Park and the wider Tri-National de la Sangha landscape.

The situation in Nouabale-Ndoki and Conkouati Douli national parks do not represent isolated cases. Such abuses are in fact ubiquitous throughout the region, as evidenced by previous research from the Rainforest Foundation UK and many other civil society groups[1].   

While human rights matters have permeated the conservation discourse since the “new conservation paradigm” called for in Durban in 2003, implementation of human rights-related policies clearly falls short. These policies are in urgent need of operational measures and safeguards, as well as close monitoring.

The Rainforest Foundation UK has written to key donors of conservation efforts in Republic of Congo and in the broader Congo Basin region to ask them to adopt a zero tolerance approach to human rights abuses by conservation agencies and the eco-guards they help fund, train and hire.

Better respect for local peoples’ rights in and around protected areas would not only align with the core purpose of foreign aid, but would also lead to much better conservation outcomes. 

The full report is available online in both English and French.


[1] See RFUK (2016) Protected Areas in the Congo Basin: Failing both People and Biodiversity?  ; and the Rainforest Parks and People database:    


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