PROTECTING THE PROTECTORS
Today is World Ranger Day, a day to pause and commemorate the service of rangers killed or injured in the line of duty, while also celebrating the incredibly important role of rangers in protecting our shared planet’s natural resources and cultural heritage.
Being a Ranger is arguably the most dangerous conservation job in the world. They are the last line of defense for elephants, rhinos, lions, pangolins and many other species that live within the parks that they protect. Many Rangers come face-to-face with armed poachers who enter protected areas, most often under the cover of moonlight, to plunder Africa's natural resources. This includes not only wildlife but timber and minerals.
What does it mean to be a "Ranger"?
The term Rangers include all frontline men and women working in protected areas. They may be Field Rangers, specialized Anti-Poaching Rangers, Monitors who track priority species such as elephants, lions and rhinos, and other staff working in the field. They may be employed by the government or privately-owned reserves and anti-poaching security companies.
How dangerous is it to be a Ranger in Africa?
According to the Thin Green Line Foundation, approximately 1000 Rangers have been killed in the past 10 years, many of them at the hands of poachers employed by criminal syndicates and militias.
Across Africa in the last 12 months alone, at least 63 Rangers have been killed in the line of duty. The actual number of deaths may be two to three times higher, as many fatalities do not make the official records. These Rangers leave behind grieving families and deeper poverty, as many are the sole bread-winners.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), home to Virunga National Park, is the most dangerous country to be a Ranger today. Of the 269 Rangers killed in Africa since the International Ranger Federation (IRF) began keeping records in 2012, 57 were from the DRC. Kenya has lost 30 Rangers, and along with Nigeria (15), Cameroon (10), Uganda (10), Mali (8) and South Africa (8), these seven countries account for almost 80% of all recorded ranger deaths.
Adams Cassinga, who is a DRC Honorary Park Ranger and the founder and executive director of Conservation Congo, spoke of the plight of rangers in his country. "A Park Ranger is the foot soldier on the front lines of conservation but up until now all he gets is a pat on the back, with a meager salary and no medical or life insurance. At times they even lack the basics such as rations, uniforms or medical aid." Many of the community Rangers that he works with are unpaid volunteers.
"Usually when a Ranger is killed, his family is evicted from the camp without any compensation." explains Cassinga. "This has led many of them to quit or to become accomplices of poachers as they are promised better benefits." For World Ranger Day this year, supported by Wild Tomorrow Fund and other NGOs, Adams together with DRC Rangers and friends, are marching a 5km 'peaceful walk' in the capital, Kinshasa, to raise awareness to the plight and work of Rangers.
82% of Rangers report that they have faced life-threatening situations, including attacks by poachers and animals, according to a 2016 World Wildlife Fund study of 570 rangers in 12 African countries.
They also work away from their families, living in basic reserve ranger stations. Most see their families 5 to 10 days a month or less.
Equipment and supplies
The world depends on Rangers to protect species of global importance. However, despite the many dangers they face, many Rangers do not receive even the most basic supplies such as uniforms, boots, socks, and rain jackets. They often do not even have access to safe drinking water. And most are inadequately trained.
The Rangers who do have access to uniforms, boots and accommodation are not only more equipped to handle the work, theyimportantly feel better. These basic quality-of-life improvements offer an important morale boost to the brave men and women on the frontlines of wildlife defense.
They deserve better.
HOW CAN I HELP?
For World Ranger Day this year, Wild Tomorrow Fund will continue to buy boots and uniforms, binoculars, digital cameras (for monitors and anti-poaching rangers), and providing training for rangers from South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland and the DRC. We also plan to use a portion of funds to complete the update of the ranger camp for our rangers at Ukuwela. Please consider donating to support us in our campaign!
If it is the plight of fallen rangers that most moves you, please consider donating to support the families of fallen rangers. The Thin Green Line Foundation and Virunga National Park both have a fallen ranger funds.
Wild Tomorrow Fund's senior ecologist, Clinton Wright, works closely with rangers and park managers on the ground in KwaZulu-Natal South Africa. He has this message for World Ranger Day: "Thank you to every reserve manager, ecologist, and conservationist who keeps our natural world alive. Thank you to donors and supporters for keeping this engine running, and to forward thinking governments and policy makers who fight for our environment. But today, thank you mostly to the rangers, the frontline defenders, to those who have lost their lives and to those who bravely keep fighting."
Please join us in supporting Africa's rangers by sharing this story and donating to support rangers. Together we can ensure they have the necessary equipment and training to perform their critically important jobs - protecting wildlife for us all.