The World Wildlife Fund is deploying anti-poaching surveillance drones in countries with spotty human rights records and non-existent oversight mechanisms.

Disappointed by the Rio+20 environmental summit, Greenpeace announced a few days ago that it is moving to a “war footing” (backup link). But the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is already miles ahead of it. It has been developing surveillance drones. Really.

According to the BBC, WWF-funded, remote-controlled drones are already in use in Indonesia. Tanzania and Malaysia may be next. Additionally, a week-old WWF announcement tells us that a:

successful test of two Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), or Conservation Drones, was carried out on 12 June 2012 in [Nepal’s] Chitwan National Park. [backup link]

Among those in attendance were members of the Nepalese Army – the same army that has been accused of a long list of human rights violations (see here, here and here).

Media reports suggest that the 2-meter (6 feet) wide drones are innocuous (see here, here, and here). They will, we are told, merely take pictures and record video:

“We hope these drones will be useful in detecting poachers as they enter the parks,” Dr Serge Wich, a biologist with the Anthropological Institute at the University of Zurich and one of the innovators behind the project, told the BBC. “If they see poachers in the area, they can send out a team to catch them.” [backup link]

One wonders if Dr. Wich read the recent Der Spiegel WWF exposé. It contained the following passage:

In the late 1980s, alleged poachers turned up in certain African national parks, which had been set up by whites during the colonial period. The WWF decided to fight back. The organization paid for helicopters to be used by the national park administration of Zimbabwe to hunt down poachers. Dozens of people were killed during the missions. [backup link]

Let me repeat that. The WWF has already funded helicopter death squads. The WWF has already demonstrated that it thinks it’s OK to summarily execute people in order to protect animals. It saw no need for a trial. Or defense lawyers. It didn’t care whether the people killed had families – and whether poaching was a desperate attempt to put food in their bellies.

Has Dr. Wich asked the WWF for reassurance that the technology he has developed won’t be taken to the next logical step? Surely he’s aware that the drones now widely used by the US military started out as surveillance tools before morphing into something far more deadly?

Is Dr. Wich at all concerned that his invention is being deployed in poor countries where human rights are tenuous and meaningful oversight of affluent NGOs is non-existent?

He does realize that, according to UNICEF, 40% of Nepal’s adult population can’t read or write – and that only 7 out of every 100 people in that country have access to the Internet.

Can we look forward to a future in which wealthy organizations such as the WWF are in command of private armies? Armies made up of ruthlessly efficient, totally ammoral machines.

How’s that for a new dystopian vision?

See the blog of Dr Lian Pin Koh (Dr. Wich’s colleague) here. If you click the Drones button on the navigation bar you get taken to a website called bearing the tagline: “Now everyone can drone!”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here