(AP Photo/Joe Mwihia)

CAPE TOWN - The Alibaba Foundation and The Paradise Foundation, a Chinese not-for-profit environmental conservation organisation, today held the first annual African Ranger Awards ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa. 

The Awards recognize 50 wildlife rangers working in 17 African countries, and aim to raise global awareness about the need to conserve Africa’s wildlife and the critical role that front-line rangers play in conservation.

In addition to a selection of the award winners, the event is to be attended by Jack Ma, Paradise Foundation co-chair and Alibaba Group Executive Chairman; Erik Solheim, UN Environment Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations; Edna Molewa, Minister of Environmental Affairs of the Republic of South Africa; and Songtian Lin, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa. Representatives of local and international NGOs and enterprises from China and Africa also took part. 

The African Ranger Awards honor 50 frontline staff, awarding each ranger with a $3,000 grant. The honorees were selected from 146 nominations drawn from 21 African countries. Among the selected rangers, many have been injured or faced significant danger in confrontations with wildlife criminals. Five rangers who lost their lives in the course of their work were among the 50 award winners. Their families received their prize grants. 

They work in dangerous conditions, often far from their families and without the necessary resources. The award winners represent just some of the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 frontline staff who risk their lives every day to protect Africa’s rich and diverse natural wildlife. A 2016 survey found that 82% of rangers had faced mortal danger at work, and 60% had been directly attacked by poachers. More than 1,000 of Africa's rangers lost their lives protecting wildlife and wild habitats between 2000 and 2016. 

“These rangers are sacrificing so much to protect Africa’s wildlife against illegal hunting and trading. With this award, we hope both to recognize their important work and to bring greater attention to the ways in which we can all contribute to protecting the natural world,” said Jack Ma. 

“We know that charity needs money, but it is not enough to have money only. Charity needs time, passion, wisdom and something that money can't buy. These Awards were not only set up to reward rangers, but also to alert more and more people to pay attention to rangers, and to the protection of wild animals and the natural environment. 

"It is up to all of us to work together to safe-guard our planet’s wildlife and resources for future generations. We don't want our children to ask us in 50 years, 'What are elephants?', or 'What are tigers?'. We don't want these animals only to be seen in museums."

Alibaba Foundation, a charitable organization established by Alibaba Group, is committed to helping to protect Earth’s natural resources. Since 2012, the Foundation has been working alongside international agencies to combat illegal online trafficking of wildlife. 

"Alibaba is willing to work together with environmental organizations and environmentalists from all over the world to make full use of our strengths in platform and technology to empower environmental protection," said Sun Lijun, a partner of Alibaba Group and chairman of Alibaba Public Welfare Foundation. "I hope that more influential enterprises and institutions in the future will be able to stand up and act together to form a greater synergy, promote public awareness of environmental protection, and jointly suppress illegal poaching."

The Paradise Foundation was founded by Mr. Ma and other Chinese entrepreneurs, artists and philanthropists to focus on preserving the planet through charitable actions, a scientific approach and efficient business management.

In July 2017 while on his first-ever trip to Africa, Mr. Ma announced that the Alibaba Foundation and the Paradise Foundation would spearhead a 10-year wildlife conservation program on the continent. Key initiatives include fostering linkages between Chinese charitable organizations and Africa’s nature reserves to retain the continent’s rich wildlife assets, as well as curbing the trade of illegal wildlife products. 

The Paradise Foundation and the Alibaba Foundation are sponsoring in full both the cash rewards for outstanding rangers and the program’s management expenses for the next 10 years, expected to be $1.65 million in total. 

“Compared to everything these rangers sacrifice, our contribution is small,” said Shawn Zhang, CEO of the Paradise Foundation. “We hope that these awards will show them our appreciation and draw attention to their important work.”

The winners include: 

• Asha Mnkeni, the first female ranger employed by Tanzania's National Parks service

• Craig Williams, who helped reduce rhino poaching where he works in South Africa by 20%

• Fernando Macamero, who evicted illegal miners helping poachers in a Mozambique national park, facing a backlash including from his family, and was later blinded while on duty

• Jeneria Lekilelei, a Kenyan herdsmen working with his peers to convince them not to kill lions

• Nanyuki Lapalee, a Kenyan former poacher now using his bush skills for conservation, and working to reform other poachers 

• Voster Mweene, whose team has patrolled 43,000km of a Zambian national park, increasing arrests and convictions of poachers significantly

Statistics show that Africa is home to the richest diversity of wildlife in the world, including more than 1,000 species of mammals, 500 kinds of birds and 2,000 types of freshwater fish. Unfortunately, poverty, illegal hunting and black-market trading have posed a serious threat to the continent’s bio-sustainability.

Over the next ten years, 500 rangers will be recognized through the program. The Foundation hopes that the African Ranger Awards will continue to raise public awareness of the importance of safeguarding Africa’s diverse wildlife and creating sustainable development.