The UK Charity Commission said it would be asking “serious questions” of the World Wide Fund for Nature after BuzzFeed News revealed the organization has funded anti-poaching guards who have tortured and killed people in wildlife parks across Asia and Africa.
The regulator confirmed that the WWF had submitted a “serious incident report” in the wake of the revelations and said it would respond “as a matter of urgency”.
“The appalling atrocities and human rights abuses that have been alleged here are at odds with everything we associate with charity,” a spokesperson for the commission said in a statement.
Charities operating in Britain are required to submit serious incident reports to the regulator about any “adverse event” that could cause harm to people affected by their work, damage their reputation, or jeopardise their income.
BuzzFeed News reported on Monday that WWF funds, equips, and works directly with paramilitary forces that have been accused of beating, torturing, sexually assaulting, and murdering scores of people. The charity announced that it had launched an independent investigation in response to the findings, led by the law firm Kingsley Napley.
Yesterday BuzzFeed News revealed that WWF had previously commissioned another independent investigation into its work with anti-poaching rangers in Cameroon, which warned that the charity “shared responsibility” for human rights abuses against indigenous people. Yet those findings were never made public, and the charity continued backing the rangers. WWF also probed separate allegations of rape and murder by rangers at a park it comanages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
WWF did not respond to questions about whether it had previously submitted serious incident reports to the regulator about its involvement with rangers accused of atrocities in Cameroon and the DRC.
The charity is facing an international outcry over the revelations by BuzzFeed News. Politicians in the US and UK have called for the governments to investigate whether public aid money is used to fund forces accused of human rights abuses. And the celebrity explorer Ben Fogle has suspended his role as an ambassador for the charity.
Two of WWF’s other major celebrity backers are Leonardo DiCaprio and David Attenborough. Attenborough has declined to comment on the charity’s links to human rights abuses; DiCaprio has not responded to multiple requests for comment.