Cape Town - Paradise Foundation co-chair and Alibaba Group executive chairperson Jack Ma has hailed wildlife rangers working in Africa and around the world for their sacrifices and tremendous work protecting the Earth’s precious species.
He said 100 rangers were killed in action every year and that they were true heroes.
On Tuesday he addressed the first annual African Ranger Awards at the Westin Hotel in the City centre where Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa delivered the keynote address.
It was arranged by the Chinese not-for-profit environmental conservation organisation Paradise Foundation - founded by Jack Ma and Tecent head Pony Ma, along with other Chinese entrepreneurs, artists and philanthropists - to help in the battle to protect and conserve the natural environment.
They honoured 50 rangers from 17 countries and aimed to raise global awareness about the need to conserve Africa’s wildlife.
Guests of honour included UN environment executive director and under-secretary-general Erik Solheim, People’s Republic of China ambassador to South Africa Songtian Lin, Independent Media executive chairman Dr Iqbal Survé and representatives of local and international NGOs and enterprises from China and Africa.
On Jack’s visit to the continent, Survé said: “It is very significant that one of the world’s foremost entrepreneurs is committed to African conservation. In my discussion with Jack, he made it clear that Africa is the future.”
The event recognised the dangerous conditions rangers faced with limited or scarce resources as they battled the scourge of poaching.
The awards were not only to reward rangers, said Jack, but also to raise awareness about the need to protect wild animals and the natural environment.
“The rangers have an incredible task, often with limited resources We have to be conscious of the fact that they protect our wildlife; we should protect them and their families,” said Jack.
“Rangers are the heroes because they protect the natural world for us, and by doing that they protect jobs. I’m very honoured to be able to do this very meaningful thing and recognise their work.
"When our grandchildren ask us what did we did that was meaningful in the world, we will be able to say that without (rangers) you would only see lions or elephants on BBC documentaries, but because of rangers you can still go and see them in the wild,” he said.
The award winners represent just some of the estimated 20 000 to 25 000 front-line staff who risk their lives daily to protect Africa’s wildlife.
Honorees were selected from 146 nominations drawn from 21 African countries.
There were five rangers who lost their lives in the course of their work and were among the award winners, with their families receiving their prize grants of $3 000 (R40 000).
Molewa called on those in attendance to work together to protect the rangers and the Earth’s wildlife.
“As we are battling here in South Africa, our rangers are doing much more than just conservation by becoming almost like the military. Also, the communities in and around the conservation areas and parks need to be taken care of and supported,” she said.
Paradise Foundation chief executive Shawn Zhang said: “Compared to everything these rangers sacrifice, our contribution is small. We hope that these awards will show them our appreciation and draw attention to their important work.”
Asha Saidi Mnekeni from Tanzania, the first female ranger in her country, employed by the Tanzanian National Park in 2003, said it was unheard of in her culture for a woman to even do such work, but through her hard work and passion for conservation she had surpassed her own expectations by leading a team.