The fight against poachers and 'encroachers' in parks is a stock-in-trade of accounts of conservation in practice, whether in books by retired colonial Game Wardens, or the day to day stories of their successors today.56 While hunting has been very widespread in many regions, the focus of the 'poaching menace' has always been the protected area, first the colonial game reserves, later the National Park. Here nature is most precious, its perfection most vulnerable to destruction. Here too, to be more prosaic, wildlife is concentrated, and valuable wildlife products (like ivory or horn) are temptingly there for the taking.
The classic approach to the management of protected areas is one of defence. Game reserves were only set up against opposition from settlers, and once established, continuous vigilance was needed to keep them intact. The attempt to secure their future as national parks faced conflicting demands for land for development from government planners. Even then, poaching, foremost of a range of problems, threatened their sustainability and security. Conservation has therefore been good at negative thinking for much of the 20th century — stopping people from doing things that harmed nature, and above all keeping people out of protected areas. The phrase now commonly used to describe such policy is 'fortress conservation'. This is generally used rather rudely, to draw attention both to the odd notion of 'wild' nature locked up behind human barriers, and the element of coercion in the way peoples' access to the nature within is regulated. The phrase reflects a common view among researchers (particularly historians and anthropologists) that wildlife conservation has imposed unacceptable costs on poor rural people in many parts of the world, and has done so with unacceptable procedures in terms of human rights.
Dan Brockington, for example, chose to title his book on the clearance of Parakuyo and Maasai pastoralists from the Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania Fortress Conservation.57 The front cover shows people sporting jewellery and champagne glasses at a wildlife fundraising party in London. He argues that the Mkomazi reserve and its wildlife primarily serves the interests of such people, and reflects their understanding of what the African bush ought to be like, and how wild animals and people should interact there. Mkomazi is understood by the European and North American conservationists who fund it, and who support the Tanzanian state's decision to establish and protect it, as part of 'wild' Africa. People — at least, local people and their livestock — are seen as a threat to the pristine state and diversity of the wild nature within the reserve. In 1988, the decision was taken to clear local people from the reserve. The eviction of pastoralists made Mkomazi 'wilderness' for the first time, because of the fears of conservation planners of the impacts of the people and their livestock on rangeland, and their fears of the unknown dimensions of future impacts.58
When the Mkomazi Game Reserve was created in 1951, there were just a few pastoralist families and about 5000 cattle, who were allowed to stay. By the mid-1980s, there were almost 100,000 cattle, and the reserve was integrated into the local and regional economy as a supplier of seasonal grazing resources. However, conservation planners believed the pastures were overstocked and threatened with permanent degradation. There were a number of unsuccessful attempts to remove stock and their owners in the 1970s and early 1980s, before the Department of Wildlife gained enough political clout to enforce their vision of a reserve free of local human use. Permits for residence and grazing were revoked in 1986, and by July 1988 the reserve had been cleared: those present and listed by name in the 1950s were last to go.59
The story is by no means unusual. In Tanzania, Roderick Neumann suggests that 40,000 people were relocated from the Selous Game Reserve, while about 1000 Maasai and 25,000 head of cattle were removed from Serengeti in 1959. The involuntary resettlement of people for protected areas has in fact taken place in every inhabited continent, with sometimes catastrophic social impacts. The issue is widely reported and researched.60
The methods conventionally used to impose natural conditions vary in form and intensity, but they typically involve the exclusion or removal of the influences of local people. I will pick one such case study of conventional national park thinking. I do so because, while the author was angry at the actions and ideas of conservationists, they are not inherently hostile to their aims. They do not commence from the premise that the desire to conserve nature must be destructive of human interests.
David Turton describes how the proposal to create a second national park in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia in 1978, and exclude the Mursi people who lived there, was based on a false view of the area as some kind of wilderness.61 The Omo National Park had been established in 1966, following a mission from UNESCO led by Julian Huxley in 1963, and a study of potential parks by Leslie Brown and Ian Grimwood.62 It was inaccessible, but it had potential as a tourist destination because of its rugged 'wilderness' character. They had proposed an extension to the east of the Omo River, and although management and maintenance of the original park had fallen into a poor state (and road access was nil), a Japanese park planning team investigated the area and in 1978 proposed a 'Greater Omo National Park'. A new area, effectively a second Mago National Park, was set aside, and a wardens' post established in the Mago valley (accessible by road from Addis Ababa) in 1979-1980. The report on the new park at the same time dismissed the extent to which Mursi people exploited the area, and identified them as a threat to conservation. It proposed exclusion and resettlement.
Foreign eyes saw the Omo Valley as a wilderness. Planners failed to understand the fact (quite obvious to the anthropologist David Turton) that the ecosystems of the parks were in fact anthropogenic - landscapes maintained by the Mursi economy of cattle keeping, rainfed cultivation, flood-retreat farming on Omo River, and hunting for ivory and skins for trade. In the 1980s the Mursi themselves did little damage to the wildlife resources of the park (although drought in the 1970s had forced them into the area in larger numbers causing human use of the park to intensify). However, the arguments about eviction were not made on the basis of detailed studies of human impacts on nature. The Mursi must be removed in case their presence excused the presence of other people, driven into the area by land hunger, or proposals to develop the region. Development of the national park as envisaged, involving eviction from key areas, would in Turton's view 'render the economy of the Mursi totally unviable'.63 Fortunately for them, in the 1980s at least, the park was not tightly managed, and the Mursi economy limped on, game guards just one more hazard to be negotiated. However, the latest destructive power of the idea of a park as a means of preserving the 'wild' by separating people and nature remained a real threat. Turton argues that such arguments for conservation, taking it for granted that conservation and development are opposed, are 'narrow, defeatist and fundamentally are pessimistic'.64
'Fortress' thinking typically involves a series of ideas about people and parks. First, that people (specifically 'native' people, or those making a living)
are an unnatural presence in what is (or should be) a natural place. Second, such people threaten park ecosystems (for example through farming, burning or overgrazing). Third, such people threaten park species through hunting (usually referred to as poaching, for the simple reason that it is usually illegal by national statute). Once the idea of pristine nature as something separate from people is accepted, it is a small step to the idea that it needs to be protected from ordinary human activity, especially from direct use of land, water, plants or animals. This idea goes deep within the dominant modern model of conservation. It has made the extinction of occupancy rights and eviction or resettlement a common experience across the world, in both industrialized and developing countries.
The history of relations between people and protected area managers can be complex. Jane Carruthers describes how African 'squatters' were initially evicted from the Pongola Game Reserve in the 19th century, and its successor the Sabi Game Reserve from 1903. However, from 1905, their presence was tolerated, because they provided a source of labour and rent (although they remained a thorn in the side of the administration, resenting and resisting discipline and perpetually being suspected of poaching).65 Then, as recently as 1969, 1500 Makuleke people were forcibly removed from Kruger National Park under the apartheid regime. Their land rights were only recognized following the end of apartheid, when the Makuleke laid claim to the land restitution commission for 250 square kilometres of land at the northern edge of Kruger, and their rights to this land were recognized. The eventual outcome of this case was an innovative agreement to restore the land subject to an agreement with South Africa National Parks that maintained management of the land and the development of wildlife-related tourist enterprises.66 The success and long-term sustainability of this, and similar, solutions to past land expropriations for conservation remain to be seen.
Colonial willingness to evict Africans from game reserves and national parks reflected fairly normal practice at the time. Conservation was an integral element in a general colonial model of rational allocation of land to different purposes. In colonial Africa, there were also forced translocations in the name of sleeping sickness eradication and dam construction for hydro-electric power, and above all to clear land for agriculture (see Chapter 7). In countries like South Africa, Kenya or Rhodesia, such clearances took place from early in the colonial experience to make way for European settlers, but the lure of modern agriculture has continued to drive land expropriation for intensive schemes to grow crops such as wheat.67 Sometimes these forced migrations were highly organized and peaceful, at other times coercive.68 National parks were concerns of the state, and that is how many colonial states operated: arbitrarily, and if necessary backed up by force; indeed, many of today's less democratic governments still operate the same way.
However, the impacts of the creation of national parks are not confined to developing countries. There is an equivalent history in North America, Australia and Russia for example, where the 'Yellowstone model' has been followed, attempting to protect the 'pristine' quality of land by not allowing traditional land uses and permitting access for visitors under carefully controlled conditions.69 The parallels between the creation of national parks as reserves for nature and native reservations for dispossessed Indian peoples in the American west have been remarked upon above. Karl Jacoby describes the impacts of the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve and (after 1919) the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona on the Havasupai people. Their economy was transformed from one of subsistence hunting and farming to a dependence on wage labour for survival. Jacoby comments 'By the 1920s, the plateau lands above the Havasupais' reservation, which for the tribe had once been an intimate geography of family camping grounds, or hunting areas, and of places for gathering wild stuffs, had instead become a symbol of their diminished status as wage workers in a touristic "wilderness"'.70
Canada's policy until the 1970s was also to expropriate and move communities within national parks. Thus, in the 1960s, some 200 families were moved to create the Forillon National Park in Quebec, and 228 households (1200 people) to create Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick. Controversy and violence attending the Kouchibouguac clearance led to a government inquiry, and in the face of mass protests over the creation of Gros Morne National Park, the government revised its policy, and communities were allowed stay (while being encouraged to move). Seven villages remained as enclaves within the park.71 In 1988, the Canadian National Parks Act was amended to allow people to snare rabbits and cut firewood.
The debate about the impact of protected areas on local people is a diverse and sometimes acrimonious one. Its energy comes in part from the hostility between academic disciplines, since most of those criticizing the social impacts of parks were trained in the social sciences and humanities (economists, sociologists, historians, anthropologists, political scientists and human geographers), while most of those arguing that those impacts are either overstated, mis-represented, or reasonable, were trained as natural scientists (mostly as biologists of some kind). There is a difference of academic culture, of language and theory, of research methodology, of cultural frame of reference, that makes informed debate across this disciplinary divide very difficult.
Was this article helpful?