- The average ranger works almost 90 hours a week: over 60% have no access to clean drinking water on patrol or at outpost stations, and over 40% regularly lack overnight shelter when afield.
- Funding can support significant improvements in the working conditions of rangers, enabling them to work more effectively toward reducing the illegal wildlife trade and human-wildlife conflicts.
- The winner of the 2022 Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award shares his thoughts about the situation and how increased support is good for wildlife, people, and habitats in this new op-ed.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
For over 35 years, I have been working on the frontlines of African wildlife conservation and have witnessed significant breakthroughs in tackling poaching, human-wildlife conflict and habitat loss. Yet it is clear there is a long road ahead of us.
I work in Kafue National Park, which is Zambia’s largest, with an area of 22,000 square kilometers. Its vast size makes it the perfect hunting ground for poachers, with some estimates predicting there are between 4,000 and 6,000 active poachers in the park.
The challenging terrain means we have to think beyond traditional anti-poaching methods, drawing on informer networks and up-to-the-minute intelligence to clamp down on threats to wildlife.
Despite our best efforts, the odds are stacked against us.
Between 2014 and 2016 alone, my team seized over 20 tons of bushmeat from poachers. The dramatic rise in poaching has real term consequences, as seen most dramatically by dwindling elephant numbers, with just 22,000 left in Zambia.
I believe adequate numbers of competent, well-resourced and well-led rangers are the bedrock for effective protection of Africa’s natural heritage. We are responsible for safeguarding natural, as well as cultural and historical heritage, as well as protecting the rights and wellbeing of present and future generations. We’re also at the heart of ensuring the safety of our communities and managing and mitigating human-wildlife conflict.
All of this means that the work of a wildlife ranger is incredibly tough, and some of the hardships faced by rangers daily are often overlooked.
According to a recent study, the average ranger works almost 90 hours a week. Over 60% have no access to clean drinking water on patrol or at outpost stations. And what’s more, over 40% regularly go without overnight shelter.
I’ve experienced these challenges first-hand. Over my years of service, I’ve had to make great personal sacrifices, including spending extended amounts of time away from my family, risking my own safety while on night patrols, and encountering dangerous diseases such as malaria.
In many ways, however, I am one of the lucky ones.
According to the Game Rangers Association of Africa, over 100 wildlife rangers were killed in the line of duty in last year. Meanwhile, polls by the World Wildlife Fund reveal that 82% of rangers in Africa have encountered a life-threatening situation while performing their duties.
As the obstacles we face become harder to overcome, campaigns such as the Tusk Wildlife Ranger Challenge offer a lifeline by generating crucial funding to widen access to essential tools, improved training and safety precautions.
Increased funding through campaigns such as this not only helps drive up significant improvements in the working conditions of rangers, but also enables us to do our jobs more effectively, leading to a marked decline in poaching rates.
“We’ve seen time and time again how supporting wildlife rangers is critical to driving change across the conservation space,” say Nick Maughan, founder of the Nick Maughan Foundation, which donates to causes effective in combatting species loss. “Failing to get behind wildlife rangers means falling at the first hurdle.”
Inadequate resourcing for rangers stems from the fact that too often, our work goes unrecognized. As such, it was an honor to receive the Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award, which was presented to me earlier this month by the Tusk Conservation Awards. To stand side by side with other conservationists and receive international recognition for the job we do, makes me immensely proud.
With the generous funding from the award’s official sponsor I look forward to continuing to protect Zambia’s natural wildlife areas alongside my teams within the Specialist Anti-Poaching Unit.
Working to achieve this goal, I have openly advocated for the improvement of ranger tactics as well as working conditions. By mentoring young up and coming rangers and involving local communities, we can build strong relationships and encourage learning to ensure our work is continued by future generations.
With the award fueling a great sense of optimism amongst my colleagues and I, we believe that the work we do will inspire the next generation to continue fighting climate change and poachers, as well as encourage others to realize the value of conservation.
Neddy Mulimo is senior ranger at the Specialist Anti-Poaching Unit in Mumbwa, Zambia.
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