The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) was founded in 1961 by IUCN, supported by naturalists and conservationists linked to The Society for the Preservation of Fauna in the Empire and British Nature Conservancy. Its stated mission is to ‘conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth’.
However, one of the main motivations for WWF’s creation was to raise funds for IUCN. WWF was needed because IUCN increasingly found it hard to make its science and technical work appealing to the public and big business.
From the beginning, WWF used high-profile marketing techniques to appeal to the public’s desire to ‘help save wildlife’. As Chris Hails (Conservation Director, WWF International 1994-2006) explains, ‘in its first three years, WWF donated USD1.9 million to projects in Africa, Europe, India and other places, which was a substantial amount of money in the 1960s’. Today WWF is the world’s best known environmental NGO.
WWF has always been bipolar in its operations. In Namibia and Zimbabwe it develops and manages sustainable use programmes, premised on ‘use it or lose it’ principles. This includes backing trophy hunting. But you wouldn’t know it from WWF’s close involvement with Kenya, where it opposes the consumptive use of wildlife and promotes a ‘hands off’ approach as a matter of principle with universal applicability. And in 2020 when The Times of London made WWF’s support for trophy hunting public, it abandoned the policy that it knew to be in the best interest of elephants in order to satisfy the sensibilities of woke Western donors (see: Major conservation charity drops a bombshell, putting the trophy hunting industry on very thin ice).
The World Wide Fund for Nature has been mired in numerous controversies. Most recently, WWF was accused of being complicit in serial human rights abuses against indigenous people in Africa, including orchestrating a cover up of murders and rape. According to The Guardian (Armed ecoguards funded by WWF ‘beat up Congo tribespeople’), a team of investigators sent to northern Congo by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) found the allegations of abuse credible.
Responding to third party pressure, WWF commissioned an independent report into the scandal. This found that staff members working in WWF country offices knew for years that there were allegations of violence and misconduct by park rangers who were receiving support from WWF. For example, the report found that WWF staff ‘heard allegations of beatings and physical violence carried out by ecoguards in the parks in south-eastern Cameroon as early as 2008’ and continued to finance, train and arm the abusers. As consequence, in 2019, The United States Fish and Wildlife Service defunded WWF. The European Commission also stopped funding WWF‘s leadership role in Messok Dja Park, Congo.
In 1976, WWF and IUCN co-founded TRAFFIC, an NGO that specializes in providing ‘objective’ monitoring, investigative and other services to CITES. In 2018, TRAFFIC, IUCN and WWF signed a new partnership agreement for work in strategic alliance on wildlife trade issues. Traffic’s board is dominated by representatives from IUCN and WWF.
Every two years, WWF publishes a Living Planet Report, which indexes the state of wildlife and biodiversity. WWF’s fundraising literature claims (falsely) that, based on current trends, elephant populations in Africa face extinction by 2040.
Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International’s senior management team.
The World Wide Fund for Nature ’s International Board of Trustees in chaired by Pavan Sukhdev.
In 2019, according to its annual review, the WWF global network had revenues of EUR 778 million and expenditure of EUR710 million. That includes WWF International, programme offices and national organizational income and expenditure, but not their consolidated accounts.