Humanity is exalted not because we are so far above other living creatures, but because knowing them well elevates the very concept of life. E.O. Wilson, 1984

29 Mar 2012

Same vision, different line of sight: WWF and Mbou-Mon-Tour

As the worlds largest conservation organisation the World Wide Fund for Nature has a heavy mantle to carry. WWF is rightly seen as one of the most active forces in the global conservation movement since its conception in 1961, exuding an image of goodwill and diplomacy. Yet the vulnerable exterior of a 'soon to be extinct' panda hides beneath it a behemoth of extraordinary power and influence, with international offices across the world and annual revenues of over $200 million, $80 million of which came from corporations in 2010 including Coca-Cola, Lafarge, and even the ever shady Monsanto.

Far away from the manicured lawns of WWF HQ in Gland Switzerland , is the Bandundu province, 200km North-East of Kinshasa DRC. Here, indigenous animist communities rely on the bounty of the forests, with inextricable links between their culture and subsistance. One evening in 1997, a reunion of elders in the village square decided that action was required to protect dwindling forestry reserves in bushmeat and riverine fishstocks. A reduction in cultural values meant that even taboo meats such as the Bonobo, which was thought to have human origins, had declined. Despite no formal education, and little awareness of international conservation policy, they agree to parcel off certain areas of the surrounding forest and forbid access, but also to actively monitor these areas through a voluntary system. For no pay, and effectively a reduction of otherwise free protein, these villagers commit themselves to the preservation of nature.

Jean-Chistophe Bokika, the President of Mbou-Mon-Tour makes it clear that his association is driven by an inextricable link of his community with nature, the impact of which is evident on a daily basis. Arguably what may eventually lead WWF to shady backroom deals is a temporary lack of conscience, but also a detachment of administrators from the natural dynamics they aim to preserve. Furthermore, a level of hypocrisy comes with an elevated status in the eyes of the global naturalist community. The Bandundu community have long since sustained the presence of endangered Bonobo in their forests, but it was only when WWF began to make links and themselves make the declaration in 2005, that the voice of Mbou-Mon-Tour was heard. Despite grievances, and cultural differences, the two organisations are now working together, in order to facilitate research teams and media to achieve the shared aim of protecting the regions wildlife.