Female rangers breaking gender barriers



Posted on 20 December 2011  | 
Sidonie Asseme has been a game ranger since 2006
© WWF-CameroonEnlarge
Sidonie Asseme never succeeded in persuading her father to let her join the military. That was her desire in 2005 when she passed a test to join the Cameroon army. He had wanted his daughter to be a nurse, in order to provide much needed health care to people in their village in eastern Cameroon.

But Asseme’s mind was set on serving, and somewhere in her there was a silent voice that prodded her on. So in 2006, she secretly went in for the recruitment of game rangers without the knowledge of her father.

“Daddy was unpleasantly surprised when he learnt I was already taking training as a forest ranger,” says Asseme, now aged 35. “Today he upholds my effort and says he is very proud of me.”

Although rewarding, it has been a difficult journey, Asseme says. “We went through very difficult training. There were times I felt like giving up, but that omniscient voice kept urging me on.”

In collaboration with Cameroon's Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, WWF helped finance the recruitment and training of Asseme and other rangers. Through the WWF programme, she and her colleagues were taught how to use sophisticated mapping, global positioning, and tracking technologies, and how to plan anti-poaching surveillance missions. The rangers have also received equipment, such as uniforms and vehicles, provide by WWF.

After training, Asseme was deployed to a town near Cameroon’s Lobéké National Park, where she has participated in several anti-poaching operations, and helps teach residents about the value of their environment.

“I confiscated four ivory tusks and a panther skin,” Asseme says. “The poacher pleaded with us saying the ivory tusks did not belong to him.”

A woman of valour, she has contributed to the arrest and detention 15 poachers.

Dangerous work


Like most game rangers working in Central Africa, Asseme has been threatened and assaulted by wildlife criminals.

“Once we were attacked and beaten by poachers in a logging town near Nki National Park. Some local people intervened and rescued us,” said Asseme.

She will never forget the day poachers locked her and three other rangers in a house and threatened to set them on fire.

“We had obtained authorization from the village’s traditional leader to search houses where we suspected ivory tusks had been hidden. But we got encircled by irate youths inside one of the houses for four hours. They threatened to kill us,” Asseme says, “I was really frightened.”

Using their training the rangers broke free and escaped safely from the village.

The incident did not deter Asseme from continuing her duties as a ranger.

“I had fathomed the risks involved in this job before going for it,” Asseme says, “I hope to continue working as a game ranger for a long time. I love wearing this uniform.

“I was born in the forest and I feel it is a moral obligation to protect the forest and its wildlife,” she says.

Breaking gender barriers


As a female in the ranger profession, Asseme is in the minority, but she says her gender does not affect her work.

“I do not feel any different working with men. We eat together, sleep in the same tents, and take our bath in the same river,” she says. “Moreover, we underwent the same training.”

“She is more than a woman,” says Ngonda Arlen, one of Asseme’s few female colleagues. “In the forest she walks at lightning speed and hardly gets tired.”

Asseme is not known as someone who complains, but she does have one request. “We need better arms and logistical support to enable us do our jobs. If I meet the Minister of Forestry and Wildlife this is the main message I will put to him.”

Sidonie Asseme has been a game ranger since 2006
© WWF-Cameroon Enlarge

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