As nature continues to decline across the world, worsened by unrelenting levels of illegal logging and rampant poaching, wildlife rangers are one of the planet’s first and last line of defence. However, ahead of London’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference this week, we’ve released results from the largest ever survey on the working conditions of government employed rangers across Asia and Africa, revealing the harsh realities of their work.
For many of us, having access to drinking water and shelter is a given when heading to work. Not for wildlife rangers. Working on average 76 hours a week, day and night, for less than 9 US dollars a day, a staggering 60 per cent indicated they didn’t have access to either of these basic needs while on patrol.
To make matters worse, one in four reported that they had contracted malaria in the last year. In Africa, this jumped up to almost 75 per cent of rangers. As if facing poachers isn’t enough of a challenge - these men and women have to fend off infectious diseases too. And some of these could be greatly reduced with a simple mosquito net, yet only 20 per cent report having access to one of these.
The lives and habitats of endangered animals like rhinos, elephants and tigers, depend in part on these men and women but these findings show rangers aren’t provided with the basic equipment needed to help protect their lives or the wildlife.
“The problem faced by rangers during patrol is that we don’t have adequate equipment to perform our work, like boots and raincoats,” said a ranger who had to remain anonymous for security reasons.
And it’s not just equipment, almost four in ten rangers didn’t feel they had good enough training when they started the job. When coming face to face with armed gangs, having to search for deadly snares, assess crime scenes, negotiate hostile situations and at times provide potentially life-saving aid to your colleague who’s suffered a serious injury in the middle of a jungle is part of the job description and regular and comprehensive training is vital.
“‘When we get injured in the jungle it is difficult to get medical treatment, especially for injuries that require a doctor or a hospital. There is no helicopter to lift us out and take us to the hospital for emergency treatment,” said another anonymous ranger.
So what are we doing about it? While rangers are government employees, NGOs such as WWF provide support to some sites and programmes and from our initial analysis in these instances, rangers are shown to have better access to basic facilities. But, this isn’t good enough and we know that. NGOs have limited resources, so the only way we can really fix this situation is through advocating for stronger, more effective government policies. With nature continuing to decline rapidly, shrinking habitats pushing humans and animals to live in ever closer confines, and the poaching crisis becoming increasingly violent, there has never been a more pressing time to undertake this research and act on its findings.
Pressure is mounting to protect nature and wildlife and now we have the evidence needed to take to the governments in order to push for stronger policies to improve the lives of those on nature’s frontline.
Ahead of the upcoming London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade taking place this week, WWF is calling upon governments to urgently review and address shortcomings that are endangering the lives of rangers and as a result, nature and wildlife. Adequate training, including widely adopted first aid training for rangers, strong emergency medical treatment plans, as well as equipment and communications devices appropriate for field conditions should be among the matters urgently reviewed. We’re also looking to secure 100 per cent insurance coverage for serious injuries and loss of life is critical for rangers and their families.