Mark Owens and Paramilitary Conservation

Over at The Vigorous North, an interesting point about the psychological need of white people to believe that developing world wilderness areas are, in fact, wilderness, and not at all populated by humans who have their own relationships to the land. People tell me that this is a sub-theme of my recent New Yorker piece on the conservationists Mark and Delia Owens. Me, I was just trying to uncover the identity of the person who shot a poacher on an ABC television newsmagazine:

The central episode of the story is a literal hour-long episode of a 1996 ABC News documentary, broadcast on national television, about the Owenses and their work in Zambia. The program included a snuff film: footage of an alleged poacher getting shot and killed in the woods. The off-camera murderer was not identified in the program, and ABC's crew never notified Zambian authorities. It's hard to believe, but the televised killing seemed to have little effect on the Owens Foundation and their aggressive way of operating in Zambia.

These crimes, and the American media's permissive, even reverent attitude towards them, illustrate some uncomfortable truths about traditional environmentalism. First, it illustrates the arrogance of the myths we keep about an Edenic, pre-civilized nature, or of Nature as a place where there are no people. The truth is that people have lived in the wild for a million years, and they have important roles in natural ecosystems - we're part of nature, not above it.

Many of the alleged "poachers" in Zambia were recent descendants of natives who had hunted in North Luangwa for generations before British colonialists expelled them to create an artificially human-free "park" in the 19th century. Americans did the same thing to Blackfoot tribes in Glacier National Park and to the Nez Perce who lived in Yellowstone. The idea of a wild frontier without human neighbors is closely bound to the history of atrocities from American and European colonial ambitions.
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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