Global conservation has changed over the last two decades. As conservation NGOs have grown in size and stature, they have increasingly turned to businesses and market mechanisms and they are increasingly replacing the state in delivering conservation programs. This article argues that at the heart of global conservation lies a small, well-connected elite, made up of directors and senior staff of key conservation NGOs, state politicians and bureaucrats, corporate directors, scientists, celebrities, and media actors. This elite network works as influence, ideas, and money are spread in formal spaces, such as conferences and meeting rooms, and in informal occasions such as social events. Drawing on emerging studies of conservation bureaucracies and NGOs, this article outlines the workings and structure of this elite, illustrated through four detailed vignettes. It situates the elite in the emerging literature on neoliberalism, arguing that this elite is at the forefront of driving the neoliberalization of conservation.

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