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Study: 'Shoot to Kill' Policy in Africa's Parks Abuses Human Rights

According to a new study published in Britain, wildlife conservation in Africa is leading to widespread human rights abuses. In her new book, Nature Crime, researcher Rosaleen Duffy wrote that organizations in Africa are operating a shoot-to-kill policy against poachers to protect endangered species.

Rosaleen Duffy of Britain's University of Manchester said that in many African countries conservation has become heavily militarized in recent years. In countries such as Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, she said private security firms have been recruited to protect endangered species. Duffy said many shoot to kill poachers as standard operating procedure.

"We've got to remember that people who are shot on sight - they have never been through a court of law; they have never actually been convicted of anything," said Duffy. "And in many cases, I think, we can think of these as gross human rights abuses."

Duffy said international tourism means the pressure to protect endangered animals is intense. She said the militarization of conservationism can have negative effects on local communities.

"Those alienate local communities because it increases a sense of injustice and a feeling that particularly Western conservation organizations care more about wildlife than they do about people," said Duffy.

Duffy said she does not believe it necessarily is the best way to protect endangered animals. "In the short-term, it might mean that you save a few animals. But in the longer-term, it just turns communities right off conservation and actually makes them more likely to support or turn a blind eye to commercial poaching gangs operating in their area."

Mark Wright is with the Worldwide Fund for Nature. He said conservationism has changed considerably during the past decade, partly due to conservationists responding to changes on the ground.

"The poachers themselves tend to be more highly organized, far better equipped, often heavily armed," said Wright. "And so to respond to that, I think there has been an inevitable change in the way that the national parks or protected areas are policed."

Wright says it is important to remember that it is not only poachers who have died in the battle over endangered species. In the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo, he said, hundreds of park rangers also have lost their lives.