In April, a series of ‘selfies’ of mountain gorillas and park rangers in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park went viral on the internet. The photos were a heart-warming reminder of the important work rangers do to protect the endangered species but they didn’t convey the risks the rangers take to keep the primates safe from poachers.
Nearly a year before, six rangers and a driver were gunned down in Virunga, the worst attack in a park where 170 rangers have been killed in two decades. In March, another Virunga ranger was killed just weeks after the park reopened following attacks last year.
According to the International Federation of Rangers, more than 100 rangers die in the line of duty every year. As East Africa steps up efforts to curb poaching and restore endangered wildlife populations, the work of rangers will be more important than ever.
This month, the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife announced plans to set aside over 750 acres of forest for the conservation of the Mountain Bongo. Also, the Uganda Wildlife Act came into force, introducing stiff penalties for wildlife crime involving endangered species. In Tanzania, the presidency announced that elephant and rhino populations in the country were rebounding following a crackdown on poachers.
Communities that live in and around national parks should be engaged, empowered and involved in wildlife protection and in the resultant benefits.
Poachers have militarised and become elements in international crime networks, making the work of rangers and communities to prevent wildlife crime tough and often deadly. Despite efforts to curb poaching, it continues to threaten vulnerable species. The last male northern white rhino died on March 19 last year in Kenya, leaving the sub-species facing extinction.
The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) has long supported member states in strengthening ecosystem resilience and building sustainable wildlife-based economies.
In June, Unep and the African Union convened the inaugural African Wildlife Economy Summit in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. One of the key outcomes was a declaration by community representatives demanding greater inclusion in the continent’s wildlife management and revenues.
As humans and wildlife continue to compete over scarce resources, we are seeing increased human-wildlife conflict — according to Kenya’s Tourism ministry, last year alone 77 people and 735 animals were killed in such conflicts.
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report, released this year, shows three-quarters of land was significantly altered by human actions but the trends are less severe or non-existent in areas held or managed by indigenous peoples and local communities.
Rangers from communities in protected spaces help to resolve these conflicts.
For global wildlife protection campaigns to succeed, every ranger must be provided with proper training and equipment. They need fair wages and also psychological support. They are on the frontline of our efforts to save our planet’s wild treasures.
On World Ranger Day today, — the often unsung heroes of the conservation world — is recognised, improved and supported around the world.
Ms Andersen is the UN Environment Programme (Unep) executive director. [email protected]