Park Rangers — The Unsung Heroes
While people of many different occupations have their role to play in protecting forest elephants and other African wildlife, it is the rangers who guard protected areas that are on the front lines and at the greatest risk. While their job is becoming increasingly more dangerous they oftentimes lack the training and supplies they need to do their job properly. Supporting park rangers is an integral part of conservation that has oftentimes been neglected.
Between 2009 and 2016, approximately 189 African park rangers lost their lives in the line of duty, many having been murdered by poachers¹. In Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo, which is notorious for its forest elephant poaching problem, 22 park rangers have been killed since 2008² ³. Poachers have become increasingly more armed and aggressive in recent years causing innumerable violent confrontations with rangers. A recent survey⁴ found that 82% of African rangers have faced a life threatening situation and that 62% have been attacked by poachers⁴. According to Andrea Turkalo, a cofounder of the Elephant Listening Project, poachers mainly used shotguns and homemade weapons in the 1990s but are now getting their hands on automatic weapons and in some cases even machine guns. In addition to the threat of violence from poachers, a survey found that 75% of African rangers were threatened by members of their communities or other people as a result of their work⁴.
In addition to the dangers of the job, it is not uncommon for rangers to not have proper equipment and training due to lack of funding. One study done by the World Wildlife Fund⁴ which surveyed 570 rangers from 12 African countries highlighted this problem. 59% of those questioned said that they lacked proper equipment to ensure safety such as boots and flashlights. 42% said they were not trained properly for the job. When NGOs send supplies to rangers it can take months to actually get to them due to customs and other red tape. Understandably, there often is a lack of morale among park rangers who feel underappreciated.
While park rangers are fighting on the front lines to protect Africa’s wildlife they don’t always get the recognition and support they deserve. Protecting Africa’s wildlife and supporting the people who risk their lives to do so should go hand in hand.
¹2009–2016: Ranger Roll of Honour. The Thin Green Line Foundation, 2017. March 29,2017.
²“Armed poachers killing rangers who defend elephants in Congo park,” CBS News, May 24, 2016
³Gettleman, Jeffrey. “Elephants Dying in Epic Frenzy as Ivory Fuels Wars and Profits,” New York Times, Sep. 3, 2012.
⁴Ranger Perceptions: Africa. World Wide Fund for Nature, 2016. March 29, 2017.