I have been supporting the IFAW in the past with donations as well as posting their funding appeals because the welfare of animals is close to my heart. One of these appeals was distributed by the organisation at the end of May 2009, and I responded by donating money and posting it on this blog. The specific occasion was the planned removal of Malawian elephants from Phirilongwe to the Majete Wildlife Reserve. Reason for the resettlement according to the IFAW: “feuding” between the animals and humans in the area caused by food and water shortages the elephants are facing.
Today I received a comment to my IFAW post with a link to a UK Telegraph article (see below) that claims that
- the elephants in their future home in Majete might fall victim to trophy hunting, a possibility the managers of the Majete National Park supposedly do not rule out;
- at least one group of residents in Phirilongwe is fighting to keep the elephants, but to protect them and the villagers through a fence and to use this arrangement as a foundation for a future Phirilongwe national park;
- such park it is claimed would provide a viable economic foundation for the impoverished Phirilongwe community, thereby removing the perceived need to kill and maim the elephants and offer a sustainable future for both humans and animals.
I am not able to make any judgments on the various facts provided by the Telegraph and the animal welfare organisation BUT it seems more than likely that the move of the animals to a new location is controversial on at least the above three counts. I therefore feel that the IFAW’s funding appeal was most likely misleading by not spelling out the details of the controversy, thus not allowing me to make an informed choice before supporting the organisation’s request for support.
The IFAW’s claim that it did not know about the possibility of trophy hunting does neither sound credible nor plausible. The IFAW is a large worldwide NGO with very good connections to many organisations and governments around the world and in Africa. Given the controversy of trophy hunting and the relevance of African Parks Foundation, the manager of Majete and other parks in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is highly unlikely that it had not come to the attention of the IFAW that game hunting is an envisaged strategy considered by the park’s manager to guarantee the survival of its parks. But even if it really didn’t know, the IFAW would still stand accused of bad research – if the UK Telgraph can find out, why couldn’t a professional and well-connected organisation like the IFAW?
The Telegraph article does not talk about an IFAW response to the controversy its removal strategy has caused with at least parts of the Phirilongwe community, and I therefore have no reason to believe that this story was made up by the paper. If it is true that the IFAW’s relocation project is in dispute, the May appeal should have taken a balanced approach by fairly presenting the differing views to allow potential donors to make a more educated choice (which could also have been supported by providing links to more background material).
I am not saying that the IFAW’s work in general is not worth supporting – I don’t have a basis for such claim. Right now though I do feel very uncomfortable with how it handled the project and the donation appeal, and I feel less willing to endorse any further IFAW support requests and donate to the organisation’s projects simply on good faith.
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