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WWF scandal (part 4): The dark side of the Panda

In June 2011, the German TV station ARD broadcast a documentary titled “The Silence of the Pandas: What the WWF isn’t saying”. The film-maker, Wilfried Huisman has also published a book about WWF: “Black Book WWF: Shady deals under the sign of the panda”.

WWF’s reaction to the criticism has been interesting. WWF produced a Fact Check on its website. Huisman responded to WWF’s Fact Check on his website. WWF has also won three injunctions at the District Court in Cologne preventing the re-broadcasting of parts of the film. A (long) diary of WWF Germany’s communications about Huisman’s film and book is here. (This discussion is in German.)

“It is unlikely that any other charitable organisation that depends on public support operates with such little accountability and in such secrecy as WWF…. It is easier to penetrate the CIA. And when WWF has been caught in embarrassing conducts it has engaged in damage control and cover-ups of the kind that might be expected from a company whose products have caused injury to consumers and the environment.”

Raymond Bonner, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, wrote that in his 1994 book, “At the Hand of Man – Peril and Hope for Africa’s Wildlife”. He was writing about WWF when Charles de Haes was International Director General (from 1975 to 1993). Has WWF changed since then?

On 25 May 2012, the Süddeutsche Zeitung published a review of Huisman’s book. It is translated below in full. WWF has reacted to the article with a post on its website with the answers to the journalist, which were not published in the article. The questions were, according to the journalist, Lars Langenau, intended for a future article about WWF’s attempts to prevent the publication of Huisman’s book and film. WWF hired a “very expensive media lawyer” and is “using methods here that are so far unique in German media history”, Langenau wrote in a comment to his article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Environmental organisation WWF criticised: The Dark Side of the Panda

By Lars Langenau, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 28 May 2012

The World Wide Fund for Nature describes itself as the saviour of wild animals. “Black Book WWF” scratches the clean image of the environmental organisation. Five examples of questionable business practices – from big game hunting to round tables with genetic engineering giants like Monsanto.

If WWF had its way, this book would probably never appear. It has gone to court to demand that certain claims cannot be made. The environmental organisation with the panda logo is trying to stop the “Black Book WWF: Shady deals under the sign of the panda” (Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 19.99 Euro).

The case has not yet been legally decided, but WWF has already won a partial victory. Nearly all major online booksellers have banished the book from their range, after massive pressure from media lawyers on behalf of the powerful organisation. In fact it can only be ordered directly from Of 10,000 copies, only just over half have been sold.

WWF evidently fears hardship as a result of the publication. There seems to be a dark side to the panda, the trustworthy brand, that companies like to advertise: This gives a green coat of paint and gives customers the feeling of doing good in concrete terms. “Sustainability has become a billion-dollar magic word,” says Wilfried Huisman.

The journalist, filmmaker and author has researched for many years. First for his film “The Pact with the Panda.” Now for the “Black Book”. He traveled to Argentina, Chile, India, Nepal, Indonesia, USA, Switzerland – and his findings are disillusioning. In the “top brand of conservation organizations,” not everything is as it seems.

Unlike many environmental organisations such as Greenpeace, WWF is not confrontational, but wants to “hug” industry – and so change the behaviour of even the most controversial corporations. A tactic which is controversial even within the organisation. Unlike other environmental organisations, WWF takes donations from industry. Where is the independence? Reading this book brings at least doubts to WWF’s claims to the contrary.

The return of the big game hunters

WWF’s campaigns are primarily for large, charismatic animals – often tigers, whales, polar bears, elephants. Ironically, the King of Spain recently made headlines when he broke his hip during an elephant hunt in Botswana. Juan Carlos is the honorary President of WWF Spain and a big game hunter – with this hobby he is far from alone in the leadership of the WWF.

Prince Philip of Britain, former WWF President, has killed at least one tiger. In the the Kavango-Zambezi Park, designed and funded by WWF, hunting season is open. “Wild Africa”, Huisman writes, “belongs again to the white big game hunters and western hunting travel companies. It is almost as good as ever.”

The three times Grimme Prize winner describes the bloody intertwining of the first WWF President, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, with the apartheid regime. Huisman reveals personal entanglements between the powerful and WWF, whether in Juntas or in the oil business.

He shows how the WWF was supported by an “alliance of money and blood nobility” in the secret “Club 1001” – an “Old Boys Network” with names like Henry Ford, Baron von Thyssen, Aga Khan, Juan Antonia Samaranch Alfred Heineken, Berthold Beitz, Friedrich Karl Flick, as well as war criminals and state terrorists like Mobutu Sese Seko.

In the Disneyland Jungle Book

There are 4,000 wild tigers still on the earth. WWF has designed an apocalyptic-themed campaign, using images of tigers and driven by donations to “Save the Tiger”. About 100 of the tigers live in the Kanha National Park in India. A safari there costs just under US$10,000. Premium partner of the travel agents: WWF. Now 155 Jeeps also other operators tour through the park every day. But what does this have to do with conservation?

To make way for the establishment of the National Park hundreds of thousands of indigenous people have lost their homes, even though they have lived there for centuries with the tigers. To urge on the authorities, WWF India forced them to accelerate the mass resettlement with the help of a court order. Now up to one million indigenous people are to be resettled, because the old reserves are being expanded and new ones created, the author writes.

A motto that also applies elsewhere. “In Africa alone 14 million people have been resettled against their will, to make room for wild animals,” Huisman writes. From the beginning, WWF has seen environmental protection as a kind of continuation of colonialism by other means.

“Eviction is a very dark chapter of conservation,” a spokesperson for WWF tells the Süddeutsche Zeitung. But he adds that, “WWF has learned and a long time ago rejected forced relocation.” However Huisman documented a different reality.

The Panda and the Salmon

WWF is also working with Marine Harvest from Norway. Principal owner: John Frederiksen, financial investor, owner of the largest tanker fleet in the world, market leader for oil platforms and the man who has in his hands one-third of global salmon production.

Frederiksen’s company breeds salmon in Norway and off Chile’s coast. In Chile, they are kept in huge cages and pumped so full of antibiotics that Huisman calls them “floating pharmacies”.

Sustainability is impossible for the salmon production. “To produce one kilo of salmon, four to six kilogrammes of wild fish are killed,” and turned into fish food, Huisman writes. Marine Harvest is a “Janus-headed monster”, which appears green and transparent in Norway, but in Chile destroys the marine ecology and the lives of people.

Nevertheless, in 2008 the company and WWF completed a partnership contract.

Palm oil dispute

Palm oil is found in many detergents and cosmetics. The run on the valuable oil only really started, when Europeans discovered it as a “renewable” plant-based energy. In Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, forests are being cleared – once for timber production, today in order to create palm oil plantations.

Huisman criticises WWF for seeing a negotiating success, when Wilmar, the world’s largest palm oil company, can log 300,000 hectares – and in return, leaves about two per cent of the area as a protected area. In addition, WWF sits together with Unilever, Bayer and the HSBC Bank at a round table, that in an act of self-regulation, distributes sustainability certificates – this in turn legitimises the clearing of forests, provided they are not to be particularly worthy of protection.

But there are few forests left. Also, because no one checks whether companies comply with their standards, other environmental organizations left the round table quickly. WWF assures that it participate only to prevent the “worst”. But where is the success? A local activist concludes: “WWF greenwashes the environmental sins of the industry – and takes money in exchange.”

At the Round Table with Monsanto

WWF all-rounder Jason Clay, vice president of WWF-US, sets up the most important industry partnerships for the environmental organisation. He represents WWF at a lobbying organization for the agro-technology companies Cargill and Monsanto – and is a champion of genetic engineering.

Once again they sit together at the round table, once more through the joint award of sustainability labels WWF gives a controversial industry a green, progressive image, according to Huisman. “These labels are not a panacea, they set minimum standards, often those of organic labels are higher,” even the WWF spokesperson says. But it is not enough, when he insinuates Huisman personally, that these always turn out as if all the hardships of the world were the responsibility of WWF. He does not do that.

His book raises questions. Lots of questions. From WWF, one hopes for answers – not excuses or expensive lawsuits.


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  1. Any objective criticism of the multi-national ‘conservation’ NGOs is valuable. In Zambia their record is deplorable. The African Wildlife Foundation did nothing to stave off the proposed take-over of much of Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park by developers in league with the Zambia Wildlife Authority. Now, supposedly punting the Mana-Lower Zambezi Transfrontier Area, they do nothing while Australian miners move in on one of the biggest copper finds in the world, a find inconveniently placed in the miombo forest region of the Lower Zambezi NP. As for WWF, having worked with them in Zambia on two projects, their record is best forgotten. They too keep their boots well out of the trenches in the fight to stop the land grabbers and plunderers. The Director of WWF in Zambia – a man called Matakala, in August 2011 found time to issue a breathtakingly sycophantic message in The Post newspaper extolling WWF’s partnership with the corrupt ZAWA. Together with the aid-donor gang they make a frightening assemblage. We need to more fully understand the role that organisations such as African Parks, WWF, AWF, CI, and WCS are having in the oppression of local communities and the loss of our biodiversity.

  2. I can concur greatly with the comments here and feel outraged and as such the WWF Int has to be challenged on certain aspects of action on it fundamental policies.

    However it may be that the “upper management” of the WWF Int is declaring itself as to be seen to be doing the correct actions when indeed the social – environmental impacts are devastating in those areas of South Asia and many parts of Africa. We must not detract though from national WWF’s those programmes which have promoted studies which we can now recognise as paradigm developments. The Heart of Borneo; Devastation in Riau, and working to prevent the last Peat Swamp park being decimated in Central Province on Kalimantan.

    Yes I realise that there are those in the “upper eschelons” of this organisation which understand little of scientific ecology and the social and green economic perspective. They do have listen to their individual financial supporters, millions of citizens who are beginning to understand the real truths. In one small way it was the same with the UK National Trust little conservative political attitudes, which have now changed as we have moved on.

    We must not condemn the 90% of WWF supporters who want the best for real development with the Earth’s Natural and Social Capital. It is like governments…they have to be led and told what to do and be allowed by its supporters to action that which is right and not try to act like a benevolent dictator.

    One small point. The WWF Int have defined an area of Southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique a new model Ruvuma Wilderness Region; a multitude of ecosystem complexes which has the power to interact with social communities to develop their area as one of the world’s first social ecological investment zones of participatory sustainable development. This is not only a model of development which is the only way forward, like the Heart of Borneo, but a paradigm model for civilised and native community participation in real life for them in the 21st Century, and a serious global involvement of providing means to balance natural capital with global sustainability via aspects of sustainable development and climate change; such biomes and their biodiversity have a far greater value for self sustaining communities and global balance than the pittance paid to and used by so called conservation organisations!

    Not quite sure about the relevance so far…so let us take an e.g. the Indonesian Government and its writ to sue APP for £GB125 billion! Now that is 10 tens more than the UK Government’ cuts in its social welfare budget or equivalent to what businesses owe the citizens of the UK through tax evasion annually!) And this sum of money will go many times further to restore appropriate development not only in Riau Province of its ecosystem and biodiversity loss but across Indonesia as a whole to stop any form of international logging and Palm Oil development for a decade…Thus it has the opportunity to redirect the very nature of what economic development really defines across the planet as a whole; it will bring home the real value of a green economy to the extent that it is a paradigm which we MUST all revalue!

    However then the WWF et al, and it is not only they who can be brought to bear on this should have acted very quickly when information was brought to the world about the demise of 30,000 slaughtered elephants in the Ruvuma Wilderness Region, centred on the Selous Park between 2006 and 2010; Ch 4 documentary exposing this massacre was to all intents and purposes ignored by the vast majority of wildlife tour operators and the Tanzanian Government and even so called Elephant support groups who imagined that such killings could never happen in the 21st Century after the Global CITES ban in 1989..Yes the Chinese are involved in this and other development programmes in Tanzania the massacre of savannah elephants through their influence and involvement in 30,000 dead elephants….Ivory and the ease of its acquisition. Now Ruvuma may be empty of large mammals; so where is the real development aid which is vital? People in southern Tanzania know that they were developing opportunities to sustain their lifestyles, be part of a REDD+ activity for carbon payments…(And how many tourists would want to be bagged when they see the last elephants and be shot by the same poachers.)

    In this bioregion if the WWF had acted constructively in 2006 this could have been stopped (Even the Chinese Authorities are alarmed at what has happened!)….

    So yes your commentators to date do have the correct views but such a reaction to the inaction by the higher bods in WWF-Int who should be retired and let the real specialist who work with those communities who should themselves be on the “Board of Trustees” who understand the real need and meaning of green natural and social capital should be summed to be the pathfinders for a new paradigm WWF which could then led the world by supporting native community action by their direct and functional interaction as “real stakeholders” and guardians of our real and natural world…

  3. Re. Dr. Nigel Miles” letter quote “The WWF Int have defined an area of Southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique a new model Ruvuma Wilderness Region; a multitude of ecosystem complexes which has the power to interact with social communities to develop their area as one of the world’s first social ecological investment zones of participatory sustainable development. This is not only a model of development which is the only way forward.. and a serious global involvement of providing means to balance natural capital with global sustainability via aspects of sustainable development and climate change; such biomes and their biodiversity have a far greater value for self sustaining communities and global balance than the pittance paid to and used by so called conservation organisations!” With the current proposed activities in Tanzania. Mining in Lake Natron, the only breeding ground of the Lesser flamingo. The public highway to be built across the Serengeti at a critical migration area, (Germany has offered to fund and extraordinary amount to build the, far more effective alternative route AND to make the other roads around the Serengeti area) Uranium mining in the Selous, Southern Tanzania, (that should poison the whole system) the badly managed rice project on the Ruaha river causing it to run dry every year, not only effecting the wonderful Ruaha Game Park, but hundreds of thousands of local people down stream; the turning down of the the proposal to make the Ark Mountains a Heritage site. plans to build a new port in the middle of the newly so called Coelacanth Marine park at Tanga. The appalling big money de-forestation going on in Tanzania, vast tracts of land being sold to outside companies, (with the local people being kicked off their land) for projects which never work out, (the Dutch company who was going to grow Jatropha for a bio-fuel plant. How sad, they went bankrupt because “no one watered the plants!!” but they did apparently manage to run a 65 million dollar furniture business in Holland from timber where they completely cleared out the natural woodlands. I really cannot think that the WWF can hold up this place place as an example of anything sustainable at present, but perhaps they didn’t know about all these plans.

  4. Thank you for adding your well researched and factual comments. I am not going to negatively argue with your reality and indeed it horrifies me that such events are now happening in the 21st Century. It is getting like a “Garage Sale” as can be synoymous with.

    Grabbing natural capital from countries whose children die of malnutrition and water bourne diseases which were prevalent in the G8 nations over 100 years ago sums up this reality. We all really need to revisit and observe, “11th Hour” drama documentary and reassess what we are doing.

    My point is that 95% of humanity do not understand the crisis we have entered as is by far the biggest “ism” that has existed in humanities history! Sustainablism..if one can coin a term, should now be overtaking “consumerism” (which was the sum of all aspects of anachronistic capitalism and communism…we have now left the 20th Century)….It should refer to survival…which may be the final “ism” of such descriptive use for human society.

    It all comes down to fear and loss. That is why the capitalistic work ethic from the last 100 years is so imprinted in our conscious culture that we have lost about ability to reconnect with nature (and all life) and amongst our own species- from those in our family to the world’s family.

    We need to grow up and reeducate ourselves along a line of interconnected survivilisms based on the above description of a newly acquired paradigm as aforementioned. Knit picking individual cases of irresponsibilties should make us warm not only by global warming but push us all to become re or better educated by the visionaries who warned us in 2007 in the “11th Hour”.

    The issue about REDD+ et al are again participant issues and not a model for life which allows the 9 billion to live in harmony with each other our planet. We need a model of and for life for all us humans to allow us to really understand “Person-Planet and live to this reality. We have to get a grip, grasp the nettle and act with compassion, care, strength of purpose, responsibility and equality. This is the way forward….

    Thank you for allowing me to represent these views from a Doctor of Education who is concerned that we act together to resolve the biggest issue to affect our species and all life on our Planet!

  5. As soon as I found out Goldman Sachs is involved I lost all hope they were a serious environmental organization
    Chairman of WWF Lawrence H. Linden – WWF in North America 1992 to current
    Managing Director and General Partner Goldman Sachs 1992 – 2009 board members

    The President Emeritus of WWF was a board member of Union Carbide 1979 to 1994, remember Bhopal in India in 1984??

    What a worry.

  6. “The international WWF-board mainly consists of representatives of the national organisations. The Netherlands is represented in the international board by Anthony Burgmans, as chairman of the board.”

    So what kind of environmentalist is this Anthony Burgmans …..?

    Antony Burgmans is currently a non-executive board member of BP and a member of the Supervisory Boards of Akzo-Nobel, Aegon and SHV.

    A BP board member running WWF …. !?

  7. YT took down the video, the doc can be viewed here. (spammed the link in wwf scandal part 1 but afais there´s no link to there from here so just to be complete)