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Wildlife rangers in DRC park report waning motivation, job satisfaction

  • Surveys of more than 60 rangers in Kahuzi-Biega National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo cite poor salaries, few chances for advancement, and security concerns as reasons for their low satisfaction with their jobs.
  • The authors of the study, published in the journal Oryx, believe that the rangers’ discontentment leads to waning motivation in protecting the park and its wildlife, which includes the critically endangered Grauer’s gorilla.
  • Improved conditions, in the form of better salaries, opportunities for promotion, and better support from the judicial and legal authorities, could translate into improved protections for the park, the researchers write.

A recent survey of wildlife rangers at a national park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) found that most aren’t happy with their jobs.

Faced with low pay, little chance of advancement, and dangerous confrontations, the rangers of Kahuzi-Biega National Park nevertheless reported that they became rangers to protect wildlife and “serve their country,” in addition to having a steady job.

“We found that park rangers often started out optimistic and motivated, but as time passed their motivation and job satisfaction decreased,” Charlotte Spira, a conservation scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “Without a guarantee of security, rangers are unmotivated to conduct patrols and are less able to do their job effectively.”

A sign welcoming visitors to Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Image by Bob Walker via Wikimedia Commons (Own work).

Spira and her colleagues published their results Jan. 17 online in the journal Oryx.

Kahuzi-Biega National Park covers an expansive 6,000 square kilometers (2,320 square miles) of lowland and mountain forests in one of the most politically tumultuous regions in DRC, and indeed the world. A perpetual cycle of violence has displaced people by the tens of thousands and opened the area to a steady stream of militias and weapons. The resulting habitat loss and poaching have cornered unique species of wildlife in a handful of protected areas. But even within the borders of Kahuzi-Biega, animals like the critically endangered Grauer’s gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri), also known as the eastern lowland gorilla and which lives only in the DRC, are under threat.

Those challenges make the wildlife rangers who patrol parks like Kahuzi-Biega vital to their preservation. But when Spira and her fellow researchers spoke with 62 of the park’s 86 rangers in 2015 and 2016, they found that more than half reported low job satisfaction. The findings are in line with similar inquiries about the conditions for wildlife rangers around the world.

A wildlife ranger in Kahuzi-Biega, eastern DRC. Image © Andrew Kirkby/WCS.

More than 70 percent of the rangers said they didn’t make enough money. All of Kahuzi-Biega’s rangers were men, often with large families to support, and nearly half said that just earning a regular paycheck was a primary motivation for taking the job. A ranger typically received a base salary of $50 to $60 per month. Funding from conservation organizations allowed them to get a monthly bonus of $80 to $200 based on their rank and how many days of work they had missed — but importantly, not on how well they did their jobs, the authors note.

The interviewed rangers said they also expected communities to fight back after they arrested people who were breaking the law in the park. In part, that’s because authorities usually only hold a poacher or someone found illegally making charcoal in the park’s forests for a short time.

“The country’s judicial system needs to be improved to ensure offenders serve the time they are sentenced and get punished if they retaliate against rangers,” Richard Tshombe, who directs WCS’s program in DRC, said in the statement.

A Grauer’s gorilla in Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Image by Joe McKenna via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

Fixing these problems requires clear laws that address these situations, as well as adequately training the rangers so they know how to handle themselves in potentially violent situations, Tshombe said.

And there are other ways to make rangers’ employment conditions better, Spira said.

“[M]anagers need to provide rangers with a salary that reflects the cost of living and the risks associated with the job, have more regular occurrences and opportunities to promote rangers, provide internal and external recognition for their work, positive performance incentives, and improved living conditions in remote patrol posts,” she said.

A bongo (Tragelaphus eurycerus), an antelope found in Kahuzi-Biega, pictured here at the Jacksonville Zoo in the United States. Image by Patrick Coin via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5).

The authors believe that making such improvements, along with opportunities to advance their careers, will not only make daily lives better and more fulfilling for the rangers. These changes could also spur a bump in motivation for the rangers, translating into better protection for the park and its wildlife.

Banner image of a Grauer’s gorilla in Kahuzi-Biega National Park by Joe McKenna via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).


Spira, C., Kirkby, A. E., & Plumptre, A. J. Understanding ranger motivation and job satisfaction to improve wildlife protection in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Oryx, 1-9.

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