The Wilderness Myth

Abstract by Mark Hopson

Contrary to popular opinion, and the vast majority of legal scholarship on the subject, the traditional American model for a national park is scientifically and logically unsound. Further, this model has been adopted at a terrible social cost to the indigenous tribes who lived on the land that became national parks. Every government that has chosen to implement the American national park model has done so at the expense of indigenous people.

This article chronicles the creation of the world’s first national parks, Yosemite and Yellowstone, and the legal battles involved. The article then shifts to explain how this model was exported, without any modifications for culture, history or ecology, across the continent of Africa with disastrous results. The final focus is on the use of this model to save great apes, like the bonobo, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a failed state that is still recovering from what many refer to as “Africa’s World War.” The bonobo is found exclusively within a few areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and mostly within a single national park where the Iyaelima people, an indigenous tribe, also resides. Like the indigenous tribes of America before them, these traditional peoples now face destruction in the name of conservation. Ultimately, the author proposes a democratic and inclusive process where indigenous populations craft their own harmonious protective measures.