Celebrating the Rangers that make our Mission Possible
Rangers are guardians of the natural world, protecting and regenerating the ecosystems and biodiversity on which all life depends. The World Institute for Conservation & Environment (WICE) has calculated that approximately 140,000 rangers are required to maintain and secure the world’s one billion hectares of protected areas. However, it is estimated that the actual number of rangers only adds up to a quarter of these needs. On World Ranger Day, we celebrate those in the field conserving our planet, sometimes risking their lives for the sake of the natural world.
A ranger’s tasks can vary greatly. Generally, they defend national parks and natural areas as wildlife wardens, forest guards, foresters, scouts, or watchers. As human activities increasingly encroach on swathes of ecosystems, from coral reefs to untamed savannahs, rangers are critical in our fight against the biodiversity crisis, whereby species are dying at 1000 times their natural rate. The habitats that rangers help secure also play a fundamental role in holding back the climate crisis by absorbing and sinking carbon emissions and ensuring our natural defences against extreme weather events like flooding and fires remain intact.
Through patrols, preventing poaching (illegal hunting), or facilitating education programs and human-wildlife conflict solutions, for most Long Run members, the task of protecting thousands of acres of biodiversity would be impossible without rangers. Without tourism, the funding for these critical roles is under threat.
Putting People at the Heart of the Job at Grootbos, South Africa.
At Grootbos in South Africa, rangers Gareth Williams and Clayton Niemand state that sharing the fascinating wonders and details of nature, opening people’s eyes to understand and facilitating a connection with Grootbos’ unique Floral Kingdom is what is most rewarding about the job. Finding the balance between nature and sustainability and explaining the importance of the entomological world is not always easy despite it being essential for many livelihoods. “Biodiversity and conservation are important and under threat”, says Williams, “The threat of nature is not fully comprehended yet.” “That is why its protection is so urgent”, Niemand adds. Understanding the loss we face if we do not learn, the education of people is the most significant part of their job.
This environmental education at Grootbos is not just for paying visitors. The Green Futures Nursery is a place of practical learning where Grootbos’ local students learn about indigenous plant identification, propagation, landscaping and how best to nurture and maintain indigenous gardens. Students learn about the unique importance of pristine fynbos in the Walker Bay region and the balanced ecosystem that is sometimes threatened by human practices and invasive plant species.
Securing Space for Wildlife to Thrive at Segera, Kenya.
Ranger Frederick Aule from Segera’s K9 Unit covers seven to 20 kilometres daily to protect species like the endangered patas monkey, African wild dog and 40 per cent of the world’s remaining Grevy’s zebra. He works in the 56,000 square-kilometre Ewaso ecosystem in Laikipia, which has a high density of wildlife. Aule was motivated to become a ranger after witnessing the decline of the natural world he grew up in. He says, “Growing up, there were so many animals around, one didn’t have to walk far in search of wildlife in my village. Right now, however, most wildlife is only found in protected areas. Some species are almost extinct.”
Aule took the long journey to become a ranger to help the survival chances of endangered species. He had to undertake various training in first aid, firefighting, and firearms. During this training, Aule learnt that even small actions, for example, littering or hunting, have long-reaching effects:
“If we do not wake up now and do something positive to restore what we have destroyed, someday the earth will be bare, and we will be responsible for its destruction.”
As a ranger, Aule actively contributes to a better tomorrow for our planet, despite the risks that come with his job, as harsh weather and challenging terrain often make the work difficult, not to mention the risk of running into armed poachers.
In Celebration of World Ranger Day 2019, the Zeitz foundation launched East Africa’s first All-Woman Anti-Poaching Unit and Academy at Segera Conservancy. This was a massive step in the goal to empower women, conserve nature and enhance local livelihoods. Just like Aule, the women take part in a tough and holistic training regime. With advice from friends like Damien Mander of IAPF and support from donors such as the Julius Baer Foundation, 27 skilled and empowered female rangers have now graduated from this academy, having undergone intense selection processes and months of holistic training.
Keeping Poaching at Bay at Borana Conservancy, Kenya.
Ranger Rianto Lokoran from Borana Conservancy in Kenya believes that poaching is the major challenge for rangers throughout Africa. Due to uncontrolled hunting in the colonial era, the decline of black rhinos was devastating, pushing the species towards extinction. Today, the main reason for poaching is the illegal trade of rhino horns as a source of income.
Through the dedication of Lokoran’s team, patrolling the 32,000-acre Borana Conservancy, where 14% of Kenya’s rhino population roam, Borana have had zero poaching incidents for the last seven years. Lokoran says, “It’s gratifying to see the rhinos safe and the team you lead at their best.” For Lokoran, being a ranger is all about passion, determination, and being a role model to your team. The role has not only helped him support his family, but he has also gained respect and honour within his community.
This has enabled Lokoran to change the attitude of many young people from his community to become rangers themselves. They now, too, see that the protection of nature is critical for survival. Rianto Lokoran and his team realise that “Nature takes care of all beings, and therefore, we are responsible for protecting it for us to survive”.
Giving Native Biodiversity a Helping Hand at Tahi, New Zealand.
In New Zealand, however, the main threat to the native biodiversity are invasive species brought into the country by colonialists in the 19th Century. Tahi ranger Evan Karaka carries out pest and weed control not only at the 700-acres of Tahi, but in a much broader area with the support of the community. Karaka tells us, “Although Tahi comprises of over 700 acres we have a responsibility to our neighbours and community to extend beyond our boundaries. With our community’s support, Tahi has the ability carry out work such as pest and weed control across a much broader area. Conservation does not start and finish with us.”
At Tahi, 100% of their profits go directly back into conservation, culture, and community. Ohuatahi, meaning ‘first place of plenty’ was the name given to the land by the Māori. As guardians of this land, called ‘Kaitiaki’, the team aims to restore and reawaken the land, preserving the rich cultural and ecological heritage. Karaka comments, “The most rewarding aspect of my role as a ranger is having the ability to share with others my culture and the positive impact that conservation has when everyone is involved.”
His journey as a ranger in New Zealand has been one of appreciation, compromise and understanding, as he says, and of all the work he has done in his life, being part of something meaningful. The work of Karaka and his team at Tahi provides a sanctuary for all, people, and wildlife not just for them, but for many generations to come.
Over 25 years of patrols at Chumbe Island Coral Park, Tanzania.
The rangers on Chumbe Island Coral Park have protected a 55-hectare coral reef sanctuary for over 25 years. It hosts 90 per cent of East Africa’s hard coral species and over 400 reef fish species. It is also an important feeding ground for hawksbill and green turtles. So successful is the marine protected area that fish stocks spill out into the surrounding area — proving that conservation is a win-win when managed sustainably.
Ranger Finga Kopa knows this more than most.
“Without protecting [the natural habitat] now, we’re going to lose the indigenous species forever. Nature plays an important role for all life on earth, including us human beings, because we depend on it and vice versa”.
Through becoming a ranger, Kopa has particularly fallen in love with indigenous biodiversity and educating others about the importance of protecting the natural world. Although this is not easy, Kopa comments, “The biggest challenge is to convince the community, especially those who rely on it and need the nature, like the fisherman or those who use the forest for firewood.” Another problem when trying to educate others, particularly local community members, is that nature is wrapped up in religious notions that God will provide no matter what. The task at hand is enormous. Kopa continues, “Some days, even covering a kilometre or so feels like an enormous task, but we never give up.”
Protecting some of the World’s Richest Waters at Misool Foundation, Indonesia.
Shark finning and destructive fishing were once destroying some of the most important and bio-diverse reefs on earth in Raja Ampat. However, in 2005, a powerful partnership between local communities and private enterprise (Misool Resort) resulted in the region’s first No-Take Zone. Since then, an additional No-Take Zone has been created. Inside both, all extractive practices are prohibited (no fishing, no collecting turtle eggs, no reef bombing, no cyanide fishing, no netting, and no shark finning is allowed). Recent surveys demonstrate that, on average, biomass increased by 250% over just six years.
Of course, none of this would be possible without rangers. The Rangers maintain constant vigilance over the Marine Reserve with physical patrols. Misool Foundation and the Ranger Patrol do not receive any support from the Raja Ampat government or pin tag system, so they rely on tourism and private funding.
Covid-19 has drastically reduced funds for rangers across all Long Run members that rely to some extent on tourism to fund critical conservation projects. At Misool Foundation in Indonesia, a new fundraiser is hoping to raise US$25,000 to make much-needed improvements to remote Ranger Stations.
Virly Yuriken, Manager of Misool Foundation, comments, “Our Rangers spend long periods of time at the remote Ranger Stations and away from their family. Ensuring that the Rangers have functional and comfortable facilities is a priority for us. Not only that but, as we have seen from the WildAid Canada-funded upgrades at our Daram Ranger Station, these changes also lead to productivity increases for the Rangers. Higher productivity means more time on the water, leading to greater protection for the Misool Marine Reserve and all of its inhabitants.”
While the tasks differ in their execution, the core principle is the same across all ranger work: conserving our planet. Given their passion to keep natural habitats and endangered biodiversity safe, they are true heroes. On World Ranger Day, we thank them for their work and commemorate those who have lost their lives or have been injured on duty. Rangers are the backbone that is vital for wildlife management and consequently for community well-being the world over. They deserve all the support we can give.
Donate to the Misool Foundation’s World Ranger Day fundraiser here: https://donate.wildaid.org/give/348299/#!/donation/checkout
Find out more about getting involved with The Long Run here
Written by Charis Fuchs, BA student on placement at The Long Run from the International University of Applied Sciences at Bad Honnef Campus.