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Wildlife rangers get new weapon in war against poachers

Opinion

Amid a global poaching crisis, today marks the launch of the most comprehensive training guidelines for field rangers to date – Helping to Save Lives on the Poaching Battle Front Line by Wayne Lotter.

The manual provides anti-poaching units with a revolutionary resource to improve conditions and training on the front line. 

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Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha

This is the first of its kind and a resource that could save the lives of humans and wildlife.

Over the past decade, more than 1 000 rangers have been killed on duty, with 80% murdered by poachers and armed militia groups. This tragic loss of life underlines the need for well-trained and well-equipped anti-poaching rangers.

The team of experts who developed this resource have more than a century of combined experience and are among the most respected wildlife rangers in the world. 

This is the first in a series of guidelines that will be rolled out worldwide by the International Ranger Federation, the Global Tiger Forum, The Thin Green Line Foundation, Pams Foundation and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

International Ranger Federation president Sean Willmore said: “The illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products is resulting in significant declines in the populations of many species across the globe. For example, the levels of poaching of elephants, rhinos, pangolins and tigers are threatening these species with extinction in the wild. 

"Anti-poaching training needs to be effective so that protected area authorities and rangers can better safeguard wildlife from this grave threat.”

The illegal wildlife trade is the fourth most lucrative criminal trade and estimated to be worth at least $19 billion (R254.7bn) a year. 

Poachers targeting species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers are using increasingly sophisticated techniques and violent tactics to fulfil their missions. The deployment of insufficiently trained rangers has at times resulted in the failure of operations, serious injuries and even death. 

Many rangers have no insurance; should they suffer injuries – or die – they would no longer able to provide for their families. 

Global Tiger Forum secretary general Dr Rajesh Gopal said: “The stark reality for rangers means facing the threat of serious injury or the loss of life daily. Very often, operations fail due to lack of training, funding and staffing. This must change if we hope to protect our wildlife and greatly improve the lives of those striving to do so.”

Last year, WWF carried out the first Ranger Perception Surveys that were completed by wildlife rangers across Asia and Africa. The results revealed that most rangers had faced a life-threatening situation while on duty and believed that they were under-equipped. Nearly half felt they lacked adequate training to do their jobs safely and effectively.

Lotter, the Pams Foundation co-founder and director, said: “It is essential that rangers have the essential skills and tools training to do their job safely and successfully. 

"The development of the best practice guidelines represents a landmark step in the process towards ensuring that anti-poaching rangers get the level of training they deserve.”

The Pams Foundation is recognised internationally for being pioneers of effective and innovative strategies in wildlife protection. 

It assists with anti-poaching in four African countries and the records show that in every area where they have implemented projects to support wildlife protection there have been measurable, usually dramatic, reductions in the levels of poaching

Field ranger basic training is the most important part of the development of field rangers. It prepares them for the circumstances they will encounter during their day-to-day tasks.

Field rangers play a critical role in safeguarding the world’s most endangered species. Recent figures revealed around 20 000 elephants are poached every year in Africa. Since Selous Game Reserve became a World Heritage site in 1982, nearly 90% of its elephants have been lost, mainly due to poaching. Selous now risks losing its World Heritage status.

Across Asia, the 13 tiger ranger countries are working tirelessly to double tiger numbers by 2022. The illegal wildlife trade is one of the greatest threats with recent progress hanging on a knife edge due to this illicit activity.

Wayne Lotter

Arusha, Tanzania

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