Celebrating the Global Guardians
Happy World Ranger Day! July 31st commemorates the founding of the International Ranger Federation (IRF) and celebrates the accomplishments and hard work of rangers world wide. We have had the pleasure of joining rangers in the bush across the African continent as their work transects tourism ventures. We often forget that many have lost their lives protecting our world’s remaining wild places. At best their work is strenuous, and at worst it is life-threatening. In fact, 137 rangers died last year. They take on everything from wildlife encounters during patrols to organized crime syndicates with budgets that far outweigh their own. They serve as local law enforcement, community facilitators, wildlife surveyors, and are an indispensable element to conservation work.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a spotlight on the dangers of unsustainable exploitation of nature and the resulting risk of global exposure to zoonotic diseases. Simultaneously, the pandemic has brought funding for protected areas to a grinding halt with tourism profit serving as the bulk of the budget. Many of the rangers have been laid off while those who remain are left with the task of guarding quiet, expansive wilderness with fewer eyes to notice nefarious behavior. So, this year, we would like to highlight ranger stories and organizations that you may wish to support who are making lasting impact in conservation.
Rangers on Safari
The national parks employ rangers not only as anti-poaching units, but also to facilitate activities that require enhanced protection from wildlife, such as guided walking safaris. In many parks, they are the only staff permitted to carry firearms. Going out on safari with a ranger offers travelers the opportunity to engage with a local, learn about their life, and support their work.
Earlier this year, the famous silverback gorilla, Rafiki, of the Nkuringo group was found killed by poachers. This was tragic not only because he was among only 1,000 or so mountain gorillas left on the planet, but also because the Nkuringo family were left vulnerably without a dominant male, leaving them at risk of violent take-over by outside males. Fortunately, one of the males from within the group assumed the dominant role and the poacher recently received a sentence of 11 years in prison. With a growing human population near the forests of Uganda and Rwanda as well as the civil unrest in the DRC, it is a daunting challenge to protect the remaining thousand endangered mountain gorillas, and one that is only successful through the endless work of rangers. Programs such as Care for Rangers in Uganda are an important contributor to providing the resources and healthcare to the people who are risking their lives daily. The gorilla trekking permits, while expensive, are also the main funding source for the parks. So, a gorilla trekking expedition contributes to conservation as well as ranger livelihoods.
Nature Protected by Women
There have been exciting developments in the field of ranger mobilization and wildlife protection. In Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, Team Lioness, has taken shape to be among the first of Kenya’s all-female ranger units. The Amboseli region is a designated “Man and Biosphere Reserve” due to its natural importance and cultural significance, making community engagement a critical component to a successful conservation strategy. The Team Lioness recruits are the first women in their families with jobs. They were selected to be an elite team based on their “academic achievements and physical strength, as well as their demonstration of trustworthiness, discipline, and integrity.” (IFAW.org) Culturally, their employment is breaking barriers and will open opportunities to more women’s involvement in community-led conservation.
Nature protected by women is gaining traction in Zimbabwe as well where the all-female Akashinga Ranger Unit has been training under the guidance of Australian former Special Forces soldier and Iraq war veteran, Damian Mander, who founded the International Anti-Poaching Foundation. The Shona word, Akashinga, means “The Brave Ones.” The year that IAPF was founded (2009), Zimbabwe had the lowest life expectancy in the world for women at age 34. Akashinga recruits marginalized women, women who have suffered exploitation, and empowers them to turn their perseverance into power. With a natural aptitude for de-escalation and greater ability to resist bribery, Mander believes women are well-suited for ranger work. As he says in the upcoming National Geographic documentary, “The most powerful force of nature is a woman’s instinct to protect.” IAPF’s goal is to train and staff 1,000 female rangers by 2025.
Earth Ranger Tech Innovation
Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, has put his technology company, Vulcan Inc. to good use with the creation of The Domain Awareness System (DAS), called Earth Ranger, which compiles the data points from ranger and vehicle location as well as any collared or tagged wildlife. The information is displayed on a satellite map, which allows the management teams to make military-level deployment decisions. The technology is already in use by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, Grumeti Fund, Mara Elephant Project, Northern Rangelands Trust, African Parks, and more.
Documentaries and Resources
In addition to the organizations listed above, the Thin Green Line non profit also fundraises for rangers. They have provided a downloadable resource kit to help spread the messaging on social media and encourage you to use the hashtags: #WorldRangerDay #StandWithRangers #NaturesProtectors to show that you stand with rangers.