Skip to main content Skip to footer

Fortress Conservation

The Western model of creating parks and wildlife reserves – supposed to protect biodiversity and critical habitats – has forcibly removed local communities from their ancestral lands and driven widespread human rights abuses across the world. While this model of “Fortress Conservation” is most heavily funded by western governments and institutions, time has come for a radical shift to respect the land and lives of local and Indigenous communities and allow them to sustainably manage biodiverse areas – as they have for millennium.


Fortress Conservation fences off ecosystems and excludes local communities who depend on these areas for their livelihoods. In Africa and Asia, nearly every protected area was established against the will of local communities, resulting in their dispossession and forced resettlement. In many countries, protected areas are patrolled by militarized security forces, who subject local communities to fines, arrests, and various forms of violence – including torture, rape and murder – if they enter the areas they have stewarded for generations.

Removing local communities from their lands does not protect biodiversity. Encompassing 22 percent of the world’s land surface, traditional Indigenous territories coincide with areas that hold 80 percent of the planet's biodiversity, demonstrating that Indigenous Peoples provide effective and sustainable conservation. Many areas that are considered biodiversity hotspots are not “untouched wilderness,” but instead, have been preserved by the local communities – true stewards of the land.

Despite this evidence, the important role played by the Indigenous as environmental guardians still fails to gain due recognition. While protected areas remove Indigenous communities, they permit the entry of thousands of tourists and other harmful extractive industries such as trophy hunting, mining, and logging. In Tanzania for example, trophy hunting is permitted on over 80 percent of the country’s total protected land area.

In December 2022, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was adopted during the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15). A major target of the GBF is to place 30 percent of the planet into protected areas by 2030. While the Framework contains language recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ rights, it does not go far enough and risks becoming the largest land grab in history. This fear is legitimized by studies showing that meeting the 30x30 target could directly displace and dispossess 300 million people.

What we are doing about it
  • At the Oakland Institute, we work directly with Indigenous and local communities to support their struggles with research, advocacy, communication and legal strategies when their lands and livelihoods are threatened by conservation schemes.

  • Our research and publications document abuses, bring the local perpetrators and international accomplices to light, and serve as tools for communities to use as they push back against forces that intend to dispossess them to expand protected areas.

  • We conduct advocacy towards governments, donor agencies, and international institutions in order to hold them accountable so that their policies and programs respect human rights.

  • Our Legal Defense Fund provides urgent support to land defenders facing criminalization and powers landmark legal cases brought by communities to protect their rights to land and life.


Coverpage of the report

Capitalizing on Chaos: Thomson Safaris Tightens its Stranglehold Over Indigenous Lands in Tanzania

Boston-based Thomson Safaris is exploiting the Tanzanian government’s brutal repression of land defenders to legitimize control over Maasai land in the Loliondo Division of the Ngorongoro District. In June 2022, the government carried out land demarcation to create a Game Reserve in Loliondo, which saw security forces fire live ammunition on the Maasai, severely wounding dozens and displacing thousands. In the immediate aftermath of these events...

The cover of the brief

Pulling Back the Curtain: How the US Drives Tanzania’s War on the Indigenous

This brief reveals how Tanzania’s largest bilateral donor has been instrumental in designing the country’s aggressive strategy to expand the tourism industry at the expense of Indigenous communities. It details how the US is behind a number of policy changes and measures that have led to the expansion of so-called protected areas and favored private operators, including fiscal measures to their benefit. USAID has for instance prepared...

regrow tanzania report cover image

Unaccountable & Complicit: The World Bank Finances Evictions & Human Rights Abuses In Tanzania

Unaccountable & Complicit: The World Bank Finances Evictions & Human Rights Abuses in Tanzania denounces the World Bank’s role in the violent conservation activities underway around the Ruaha National Park (RUNAPA).

Flawed Plans report cover

Flawed Plans for Relocation of the Maasai from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Flawed Plans for Relocation of the Maasai from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area builds on field research conducted at two relocation sites — Msomera village in Handeni district and Kitwai A and B villages in Simanjiro district — to reveal that the sites lack adequate water resources and grazing land while promises of improved social and health services by the government remain unfulfilled. Additionally, the report exposes the failure...

Report cover

Stealth Game: "Community" Conservancies Devastate Land & Lives in Northern Kenya

Stealth Game: “Community” Conservancies Devastate Land & Lives in Northern Kenya — reveals the devastating impact of privatized and neo-colonial wildlife conservation and safari tourism on Indigenous pastoralist communities. Although terms like “participatory,” “community driven,” and “local empowerment” are extensively used, the report exposes how the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) and...



Maasai herders with their cattle inside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

This Human Rights Day, Stand with the Maasai to End Fortress Conservation

Friday, December 9, 2022

The Western conservation industry is advancing plans that threaten to eliminate the basic rights of millions of Indigenous Peoples around the world.

Samburu communities in Nantudu, Olidonyiro fearing evictions from community lands.

Protecting Human Rights is Essential to Conserving Nature

Thursday, December 9, 2021 Ben Reicher

So-called “conservation” — in the guise of tourism dollars as a development strategy — is denying basic rights for Indigenous pastoralists in Northern Kenya

A boma in the Ngorongoro District

Indigenous Peoples Must Be at the Center of Global Conservation Efforts

Wednesday, July 21, 2021 Ben Reicher

At its annual meeting on July 16-31, 2021, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee will discuss protection of the world’s most priceless cultural landmarks. A critical issue for this discussion is whether the voice of Indigenous communities, for whom some of these protected areas are home, will be audible and considered.

Maasai villagers, their faces are hidden for their protection. Credit: Oakland Institute

Tanzania's Withdrawal from the African Court on Human and People's Rights

Monday, December 9, 2019 Anuradha Mittal

A Wrong Move for the Country and for the Continent Maasai villagers, their faces are hidden for their protection. Credit: Oakland Institute When domestic mechanisms fail and there is no rule of law, independent regional and international mechanisms are essential to ensure accountability and human rights for all. This December 10th, recognized internationally as Human Rights Day, it is necessary to challenge Tanzanian President John Magufuli...

Forest view. Credit: Janhavi Mittal

Dalit and Adivasi Women at the Forefront of the Forest Rights Movement in India

Monday, September 9, 2019 Janhavi Mittal

The Supreme Court of India is set to rule on a case, Wildlife Trust Vs the Union of India, which could result in the eviction of 1.9 million forest dwellers from the country's Indigenous and traditionally marginalized communities.