FJA Shortlist 2021

Category: Excellence in Environmental Journalism

Author: Jack Losh (United Kingdom)

When Nature Conservation Goes Wrong

The original publication is available via the following link:

Foreign Policy - April 2, 2021

Environmentalists’ intent on saving the planet by protecting natural habitats are creating human disasters of their own.

KYAMBURA, Uganda—The dry season had only just begun, but Muhammad Bwambale was already running out of options. Money and decent work were always in short supply for villagers in the Ugandan community of Kyambura, but a bad harvest had pushed them to the edge. One tantalizing option remained.

Bwambale and his neighbors lived atop a dramatic escarpment overlooking the vast savannah of Queen Elizabeth National Park—a diverse mosaic of grasslands, lakes, and forests teeming with big game. The community understood its conservation value and welcomed its stream of tourists who occasionally visited the village to buy handicrafts. But there were tensions.

Villagers felt snubbed by the authorities when they failed to get compensation after crop-raiding elephants trampled their valuable produce. And those whose desperate living conditions compelled them to venture into the park and hunt game faced being arrested—or worse.

But if Bwambale could just sneak in and return with a few antelope or buffalo, he could help his malnourished daughter and terminally ill wife stave off hunger, selling the remaining bushmeat to make some money. According to his neighbors, he and four others armed themselves with a rudimentary arsenal of machetes, spears, and traps—guns were far too expensive—and headed into the park before dawn.

Two days later, he was dead.

Read more