“The pressure is continuous, there is no rest! Our minds never rest. Death can come anytime” The statistics are out there, showing just how dire are the dangers and threats that rangers face every day. Only in 2016, 82% of rangers in Africa declared that they have faced a life-threatening situation whilst on patrol. The Thin Green Line Foundation, a Melbourne based organisation dedicated to supporting and helping rangers, has been compiling data on ranger deaths on the job for the last 10 years. A massive percentage of 50% - 70% of the recorded deaths are due to conflict with poachers! And it is not only danger that a ranger will face, but difficult working conditions, being isolated from their families, poor equipment and close to no training, all of this for a mere symbol in remuneration and very little respect.
Rangers are being executed with military precision with weapons of performance, others are being kidnapped and tortured, beaten mercilessly, others are being traumatized and changed forever in their abilities by gun wounds. Amidst the gun shots, they witness NGOs parading on TV with government officials, donating huge sums to Wildlife Conservation Parks, or for the protection of rangers. They are faced with AK-47s in the bushes and then asked to return to work before their healing time ends, because there are no resources!!
The re-emergence of the illegal ivory trade and rhino horn, as well as other protected animals, has deepened the dangerous threats that rangers face on a daily basis. The intoxicatingly high amounts of money that illegal trade offers, has helped organised criminal networks to join in, resulting in well-funded and weapons supplied poaching syndicates. These syndicates are becoming more aggressive and well-trained by the day.
As a response, many conservation groups have embraced the concept of paramilitary-style training. More than 80% of the work a ranger does nowadays is combat operations against poaching. Many countries are not able to financially support the training for the combat operations and daily responsibilities. It leaves the the rangers unsuspecting of what is required on the field. With an old weapon being sent on patrol, he is left to face death or life, to face the moral responsibility of having to kill somebody. Support for rangers has not kept pace with the escalating violence of the role.
“Poachers operate in small groups, in general 4-5 people, they have very good communication systems, satellite phones, weapons. They organize themselves very well but they commit murders, and they are skilled at killing more than just animals. Some of the raids are just revenge, bloody revenge. And they have the resources, many resources that we do not have. Still makes me wonder where did all the money end up?”
The cost of protecting wildlife can be clearly seen among the spent bullet shells and freshly dug graves. Poaching is becoming militarized and rangers are having to head into the bush to face hardened soldiers. Firefights and battles are just a part of the outcome, sometimes also coldblooded murder, with a record number of rangers being killed in the past years, many in revenge-driven ambushes.
Many rangers are completely and utterly under equipped. They feel that they do not have proper equipment to face their daily jobs, they lack the basics.
“Where are our weapons? How can we fight back? We NEED help in fulfilling our DUTY! Rangers are not supported adequately with equipment, training and facilities. A cat cannot compete with a tiger, although they are from the same family. We need better weapons in order to fulfill our jobs and protect both ourselves and the animals we are serving.”