The Role of Rangers
Rangers are the last line of defence for some of the world’s most iconic and endangered species found in the natural world.
Our use of the term ranger is an umbrella word that refers to all frontline staff involved in the protection and management of national parks and natural areas. It can include but is not limited to professionals working as wildlife wardens, forest guards, foresters, scouts and watchers. A ranger’s work covers six main areas; patrolling, combating poaching, engaging with local communities, managing fires, assisting with tourism and monitoring wildlife.
Patrolling is a key component of the work of rangers, where they spend countless hours outdoors every year in conditions that can be extremely challenging and dangerous. On average, between daily and long-range patrols, rangers cover an area of about 10-15km per day.
Whilst on patrols, rangers fulfil a number of their roles. Patrolling is integral in helping rangers to combat wildlife crime by scouting for signs of illegal activity such as snares and traps set up by poachers. It also helps for rangers to spot and manage fires that threaten wildlife reserves and forests.
Rangers assist in conservation work by engaging with local communities to educate them on the importance and utility of conserving these natural areas. Their role is integral in managing human-wildlife conflict, which is an ongoing issue due to the rate at which the human population is growing.
Rangers are on the frontline for our planets critical conservation battle and their role in the conservation of natural areas is often underestimated. Well-trained, motivated and properly equipped rangers are vital to the protection of biodiversity and precious natural and cultural sites.
That is why, here at the RFA we want to work with rangers to improve their skills to help them undertake the invaluable work they do for global conservation efforts, on a day-to-day basis.
Species Protection in Asia
South East Asia is a global diversity hotspot, but with over 600 million people living in the region, the pressures on species survival are immense. The two main drivers of biodiversity loss in the Asian tropics are trade motivated hunting and habitat loss.
Threats that have led to various iconic species reaching endangered status stem from a continually growing human population in Asia, resulting in habitat loss and an increase in human-wildlife conflict.
Large development projects, agricultural plantations and spreading human settlements encroach on forest and fragment areas that were once contiguous wildlife sanctuaries.
Wildlife crime is one of the main threats to the world’s flora and fauna. The incidences of poaching seem to be increasing globally, with the entanglement of international organised criminal networks in illegal wildlife trade fuelling the criminal activity.
Illegal wildlife trade is rampant throughout Asia, with poachers targeting species that are traded as commodities. Poachers target the Asian elephant for ivory but more commonly for the live elephant trade that fuels the tourism industry or for use in the timber industry and poachers also hunt tigers for their skin and bones.
The vulnerable position of thousands of species, despite living in protected areas across Asia, highlights the important role of rangers in species protection. The part that rangers play by reporting and arresting illegal hunters, removing snares and traps and raising awareness about the necessity to protect Asia’s precious forests, is one that is integral to species protection in Asia.
Challenges on the Frontline
Rangers work under some of the toughest conditions in the world. The inherent dangers that accompany the job are compounded by a lack of adequate training and equipment, limited support from government authorities and a lack of respect shown from the general population.
A survey carried out by WWF across Asia and Central Africa, has concluded that one in seven wildlife rangers have been seriously injured at work within the last twelve months. Not only do rangers face the risk of being harmed by illegal poachers, but they are also at risk from dangerous encounters with wildlife and a lack of medical facilities to treat illness and infectious disease such as malaria.
The International Ranger Federation & Thin Green Line Foundation confirmed that the official death toll from July 2017-2018, whether from harm caused by illegal poachers or poor environmental conditions, was 107 rangers, which has increased from 101 from the previous year. Over nine years, this has accumulated to approximately 871 deaths for rangers on the frontline, in just nine years.
Aside from the direct threats to their life, rangers spend weeks, sometimes months away from their family and friends with this having an unquestionable emotional toll on the rangers. Time away from loved ones, coupled with very low pay, inadequate equipment to fulfil their duties and often having no access to electricity or clean drinking water, are all major challenges faced by rangers on a daily basis.
The failure of the government in many Asian countries to address the shortcomings of the job that endangers the lives of wildlife rangers, means that other organisations are helping to fill the gaps with emergency medical treatment plans, provision of equipment appropriate for the field conditions and the provision of training that will increase resilience in the field.
World Ranger Congress 2019
The International Ranger Federation World Ranger Congress brings together rangers from all over the world and provides them with the opportunity to learn new skills, share knowledge and create partnerships. The Congress is also a forum for the creation of recommendations on issues that affect rangers.
The 9th World Ranger Congress will be hosted by Nepal in 2019 – the first time this triennial event is to be held in Asia. The Congress will provide Nepal with the opportunity to showcase the incredible work they have been doing to achieve zero poaching. In 2011, for the first time in 29 years, not a single rhino or tiger was killed for black market trade in Nepal.
The frontline rangers played a huge role in this landmark achievement and this record has now been achieved in 2014 (elephants, rhinos and tigers), 2015 (rhinos) and 2016 (elephants, rhinos and tigers).
The ranger community of Asia needs significant support if it is to continue to build on these successes.
The Congress will be a landmark event to enhance support for rangers, to encourage and build capacity to ensure effective management of the outstanding and highly threatened natural assets under their care.
Recognising the necessity to address the needs of rangers, the Nepalese Ranger Association is hosting the next World Ranger Congress. The Congress will provide a great platform for capacity building, not only for Nepalese and Asian Rangers, but also for other attendees through a cross pollination of ideas, techniques and best practice conservation/management initiatives from around the globe which will be provided in the conference workshops, concurrent sessions and keynote speeches.