Wildlife Rangers – Forgotten Heroes: Sustainability Story of the Week
In light of China’s decision to ban its domestic ivory trade, there is great hope for the fight against poaching. More than 20,000 African elephants were killed in 2015 alone. Ivory is highly sought after in China, which accounts for two thirds of the global ivory trade. Officially, ivory traded in China comes from a legal stock pre-dating the ban of the international trade in ivory in 1989. In reality, it is feared that illegally poached ivory is mixed into that stock, fuelling the poaching industry in Africa.
Sadly, not just the animals fall victim to the poaching industry. It is estimated that two to three rangers lose their life every week. In the past decade, more than 1000 rangers have been killed, 75% of them by poachers. And yet, where is the media outcry? The war on poaching is an international one, which has transcended the borders of the world’s national parks. Why then, are we closing our eyes on the fate of these wildlife rangers, both men and women who fight everyday to protect our natural heritage?
Wildlife rangers are fighting a war that a large part of the world ignores. In fact, even the rangers’ own countries often ignore their needs and fail to honour their work. Lack of training, inadequate equipment, harsh and dangerous working conditions, low salaries, and the list goes on… Perhaps worst of all, rangers in Africa are rarely offered life insurance or pensions. This means that in the event of their death, their family has to bear the cost of the funeral and the loss of a salary on top of the emotional trauma. A fallen soldier is honoured by his country; a fallen ranger is forgotten.
Yet, it is a war they are fighting. Facing them are commercial poachers with increasingly sophisticated weapons. Rangers are largely under-armed. In some African national parks, all rangers have to defend themselves are a torch and a mobile phone! They are under siege and are not given the support they need to fight. In spite of all this, they bravely carry on defending the incredible African wildlife with passion. They deserve to be honoured and their families supported.
Luckily there are a few organisations that are recognising the sacrifices made by the rangers. The Thin Green Line Foundation offers funding and support to families of rangers killed in the line of duty. It addresses basic human needs such as food, water, and shelter, pays school fees, and helps families set up small business ventures. The foundation also provides direct support to rangers across the world by offering additional training, equipment, medical assistance, and salary supplements. Similarly, the NGO African Parks Network, which runs 10 national parks in 7 African countries, has the largest anti-poaching force in Africa. It provides appropriate training and equipment along with a life insurance policy that pays the rangers’ families the equivalent of three years’ salary.
It is important that the world’s gaze is turned towards the stories of these men and women so as to ensure they do not remain forgotten forever. Pressure needs to be applied on governments to protect wildlife rangers and give them the recognition they so deserve. It will encourage more people to join anti-poaching forces and make them more efficient and successful. This can save many lives, both human and animal.
Ecotourism can help reduce poaching and its devastating impacts on the animals and those protecting them. Income generated by wildlife tourism can be a powerful incentive for governments to increase the protection of their wildlife. It can also play a crucial role in raising awareness about illegal trade fuelling the poaching industry and offers alternative revenue opportunities for poachers wishing to repent or potential poachers-to-be.
In the spirit of honouring and remembering fallen rangers, here are but a few names of the many wildlife rangers who have given their life to protect our wildlife:
Richard Sungudikpio Ndingba, shot in RDC on April 23rd 2016
Rigobert Anigobe Bagale, shot in RDC on April 23rd 2016
Dieudonné Tsago Matikuli, shot in RDC on April 23rd 2016
Dexter Chilunda, shot in Zambia on May 23rd 2014