Standing up for the environment or animals in the face of overwhelming and powerful opposition can be a courageous but dangerous act. Whether the opposition takes the form of a legal corporation, organized crime, or a gang of rogue poachers, the threats against these do-gooders are all too often deadly ones.
For many activists, unfortunately, taking a stand for what’s right becomes the last thing they ever do.
Between 2002 and 2013, for example, an incredible 908 people in 35 countries were murdered for trying to defend the environment, according to an April 2014 report from Global Witness. During this period only 10 perpetrators were caught and punished for these crimes.
Here just a few committed activists who were killed over the last quarter century fighting for the causes they believed in:
1. Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espirito Santo – 2011
Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espirito Santo, spent decades actively fighting illegal Amazon logging. When they stood up to a powerful local landowner who was evicting rural workers from his property in May 2011, Jose and Maria were murdered by hired thugs riding motorbikes through a rainforest reserve.
2. Chico Mendes – 1988
Chico Mendes, a Brazilian rubber tapper by trade, was another staunch defender of the Amazon rainforest. A trade union leader and all around environmentalist, Mendes gained fame speaking in support of sustainable forest uses and better education for workers’ children. He was assassinated in 1988 at age 44 by a plantation owner with whom he’d battled over logging in a proposed forest reserve area.
3. Jairo Mora Sandoval – 2013
The body of Costa Rican sea turtle activist Jairo Mora Sandoval, 26, was discovered on a beach on May 31, 2013. He’d been bound, beaten and shot in the head. Maro, a biology student, ardently worked to protect sea turtle eggs from poachers. Presumably, some of those poachers wanted him out of the way.
4. Dr. Karel Van Noppen – 1995
In the 1990s, Dr. Van Noppen, a Belgian government veterinarian and meat inspector, began investigating the illegal use of growth hormones on livestock by farmers who were getting the drugs on the black market. His aggressive war on these drugs led organized crime to put out a contract on his life. In February 1995, assassins shot and killed Dr. Van Noppen while he stood in the doorway of his own home.
5. David “Gypsy“ Chain – 1998
David “Gypsy” Chain, a 24-year-old environmental activist and member of Earth First!, died in September 1998 while protesting logging activity in the Headwaters Forest north of San Francisco. A felled tree struck him and instantly killed him. Activists present with Chain that day assert that the loggers were cutting the trees so they’d purposely fall toward protestors rather than in a safer direction. Loggers said they didn’t know anyone was there and it was an innocent accident.
6. Dian Fossey – 1985
A champion of mountain gorilla conservation in Rwanda, American zoologist Dian Fossey was found murdered in her cabin in late December 1985. She’d been cut down with a machete she’d once seized from a poacher. Fossey was a one-woman army against gorilla poachers, earning her many enemies. Her death remains officially unsolved. She was buried beside her beloved gorillas in Rwanda’s Ruhengeri Province. Her story became a book and a major motion picture called “Gorillas in the Mist.”
7. Prajob Nao-opas – 2013
Thai environmentalist Projob Nao-opas spent months in 2013 investigating the illegal dumping of toxic waste in Chacheongsao province, near Bangkok, Thailand. His well-publicized efforts caused police to warn Prajob that he was in danger in December 2012. He was gunned down in February 2013 while waiting at a garage for repairs to his pickup truck.
8. George Adamson – 1989
If you watched the movie or read the book “Born Free” about Elsa the lioness, you know who George Adamson is. Adamson spent many years rehabilitating captive and orphaned big cats so they could be reintroduced to their natural habitat. He was killed in Kenya in 1989 trying to save his assistant and a tourist from attacking poachers. Sadly, his wife, Joy Adamson, was also murdered. It happened 9 years earlier, apparently by an employee she had fired.
9. Jill Phipps – 1995
British animal rights activist Jill Phipps, 31, attended a protest against exporting live calves to Amsterdam at Coventry Airport in February 1995. She and 10 others tried to stop a truckload of calves by chaining themselves together and sitting in front of it. The driver, who some say was apparently distracted by the tumult, drove right over her, breaking her spine and killing her.
10. Joan Root – 2006
Conservationist and activist Joan Root actively battled poaching and illegal fishing in Kenya for many years. Despite mounting threats against her, she refused to leave Kenya. She was shot and killed by four gunmen in her home in January 2006. Who hired those killers remains a mystery.
Take a moment to think about and remember these and so many other activists who’ve lost their lives standing up for the causes they believed in.
Photo credit (all images): Thinkstock