Illegal loggers murder Peruvian forest campaigner

Illegal logging isn't just an environmental crime; sometimes it's a crime against people too.

Pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth...

Pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth...

In Peru, authorities say prominent forest campaigner Edwin Chota was murdered by illegal loggers, along with three other men.  They were shot in front of their fellow villagers.

The murdered men were all members of the indigenous Asheninka tribe, which lives in the remote Peruvian Amazon near its border with Brazil.  

Chota, a community leader in the Ucayali region, fought to expel illegal loggers who raided their forests.  He was well known internationally, having been featured in reports by National Geographic and the New York Times

Chota had received a number of death threats from the loggers he fought, and had repeatedly asked for protection from the Peruvian authorities.

A local indigenous leader told a newspaper that illegal loggers bound and shot Chota and his companions in their village in front of its inhabitants.  He said the loggers were seeking revenge after having been reported to the authorities.

According to The Guardian, Chota's widow and other villagers had to travel for six days by river to report the crime to authorities. 

A leader with Peru’s largest indigenous federation, Aidesep, called on the Peruvian government to do more to protect indigenous people from criminal mafias.  “These logging mafias can kill our brothers with impunity,” he told The Guardian.

A 2012 World Bank report -- which you can download free here -- estimated that as much as 80% of Peru’s logging exports are harvested illegally. 

Globally, illegal logging is thought to cost developing nations around $15 billion in direly needed revenues annually.  This figure approaches $60 billion annually if the environmental costs of illegal logging are included.

Illegal logging is increasingly dominated by large criminal gangs or mafias, some of which do not hesitate to assassinate those who stand in their way. 

In recent years scores of forest guards, campaigners, and concerned citizens have fallen. 

 

Eco-crisis: Deadly assaults on park guards growing

Defending nature can be dangerous work.  Just ask the park guards at Virunga National Park in the Democratic of Republic of Congo.

Peril abounds for gorillas (photo by John Fa)

Peril abounds for gorillas (photo by John Fa)

In the last decade more than 140 guards have been killed at Virunga in an effort to hold at bay poachers and armed militant groups.  The park is a World Heritage site, famous as home to a quarter of the world's critically endangered mountain gorillas, and an abundance of other African wildlife.

The latest victim of violence is the Chief Warden of Virunga, Emmanuel de Merode, who is also a member of the Belgian royal family.  Merode was shot and gravely wounded on Tuesday by three gunmen in the park. 

For years, Merode had led efforts to defend the park and its wildlife from a growing tide of lawlessness in the region. 

Park guards in many parts of the world have died while attempting to defend their reserves from illegal poachers, gold miners, loggers, and drug traffickers. 

The assault on a royal is underscoring what for many is seen as a growing crisis: A rising tide of violence and criminality among poachers and encroachers, which often operate in organized gangs.

Guards also struggle to hold at bay growing numbers of impoverished people living near parks--people who see the wildlife, timber, and other resources in parks as a potential source of food or income. 

Just as those who fight bravely in wars are often hailed as heroes, we should also recognize the gallantry of those who are fighting--and even dying--to protect Earth's most vital places.