Every year, World Ranger Day on July 31 recognizes the immense sacrifices made by rangers to protect wildlife. With the day come eye-watering statistics: tens dead in the line of duty and scores more injured or maimed. During last year’s event, the International Ranger Federation revealed that 137 rangers lost their lives between July 31, 2019 and July 31, 2020, 59 of them from Africa.
This is the sobering reality of the fight against illegal wildlife trade, a stark reminder that wild animals are not the only victims of this heedless exploitation of nature. All too often, human beings have been caught in the crossfire.
But there are causes for celebration amid the gloom.
In September 2020, 27-year-old Luckmore Machipisa, a ranger from Save Valley Conservancy, won the Zimbabwean leg of the Wildlife Ranger Challenge, a virtual race that brings together rangers from 20 African countries to raise money for conservation. The rangers participate in races in their respective countries, with people running in solidarity from all over the world. African Wildlife Foundation was a proud supporter of the Zimbabwe edition last year, awarding Machipisa a cash prize of USD $750 for coming first in the country.
“This prize is the best thing that has happened to me in my career so far. Our economy is not doing very well so I will use the money to improve my life and that of my family,” says an elated Machipisa, who is married with two children. His prize was originally supposed to be a return ticket to Kenya for a chance to learn from rangers working in conservancies in the country. However, the COVID-19 pandemic dampened travel plans.
Machipisa’s diligence goes beyond the competition and shines in his dedication to his work at Save Valley Conservancy. Having started working as a ranger in January 2017, he has cultivated a strong work ethic that keeps him consistently on his toes, embracing the challenges that come with the job.
“My day starts very early, and it is always fully packed. I wake up at 4 am and by 5 am I start work, which involves patrolling the conservancy to ensure the security of wildlife from poachers. I would like to thank AWF because the support they are giving us goes a long way in helping us execute our duties as rangers,” he adds.
Like his colleagues across the world, he acknowledges that his job is a risky, unpredictable one.
“The biggest challenge facing us in our work is security threats from poachers, who are often heavily armed, and are difficult to subdue. We run the risk of losing our lives,” says Machipisa.
This has however only strengthened his resolve to create a safer environment for wildlife and people in a bid to secure a better future for Africa’s biodiversity.
“Working in conservation has been fulfilling for me. I would urge young people to consider this line of work because our natural resources will dictate our future. It is important that we look after them,” he insists.
AWF Zimbabwe Country Director Olivia Mufute highlights the need for further support to rangers in Save Valley Conservancy and beyond.
“Congratulations to Luckmore Machipisa! In addition to the prize money, he will also participate in various training programmes organized by AWF for Save Valley Conservancy rangers. AWF hopes that this will motivate other wildlife scouts from local communities to strengthen their capacity and effectiveness during anti-poaching patrols in [the conservancy],” she notes.
The 2021 edition of the Wildlife Ranger Challenge will be held on September 18 at the Save Valley Conservancy. AWF will once again sponsor the top prize of the 21-kilometer category and provide commemorative T-shirts, caps, and water bottles to the contestants. The race seeks to honor the rangers and wildlife scouts killed or injured in the line of duty and to celebrate their immense contribution to the fight against the illegal wildlife trade and poaching. The competition will also help raise funds to support rangers in their work, particularly the provision of essential supplies such as camping equipment, further tactical training, and support to the families of the deceased and maimed.
Community-based interventions fortify wildlife conservation
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder for rangers to make a living, with many facing job losses or salary cuts as tourism revenues fell, leaving protected area managers with little funds to run operations. Experts had warned that reduced ranger forces were likely to cause spikes in poaching across the continent as security patrols became less frequent, leaving wildlife at the mercy of traffickers.
However, the increase in poaching incidents has not been as dramatic as feared, largely due to organizations such as AWF quickly mobilizing to fill in the revenue gaps. We supplied protected areas with fuel, food rations, personal protective equipment, and allowances for rangers to allow them to continue with security patrols. These efforts were mobilized through the AWF COVID-19 Emergency Response, a concerted six-month program that ran from July to December 2020 that provided much-needed support to the protected areas, communities, and conservation programs worst hit by the pandemic.
AWF, through the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Resilience ANCHORS project, is working with the Nyangambe Community’s Wildlife Project in Save Valley Conservancy to recruit, train, and equip 12 community rangers for law enforcement and anti-poaching operations. A key deliverable of the project, known in full as Resilience through Accelerating New Community-based Holistic Outcomes for Resource Sustainability, is the development of a comprehensive community engagement plan which incorporates a strong human-wildlife conflict mitigation component. Additionally, Resilience ANCHORS aims to provide new waterpoints — a critical requirement in this arid wildlife area — for community-based wildlife projects.
For Machipisa and his fellow rangers, it is such community-centered interventions that make it easier for them to monitor wildlife movements and better protect at-risk species.
This World Ranger Day, as on any other day of the year, they will be out in the field, working in tough conditions, to deliver exceptional outcomes for Africa’s wildlife. We hope to celebrate their achievements year after year for a long time to come.