Sunday, July 31 was thus World Ranger Day! A day dedicated to commemorating game rangers killed or injured in the line of duty and to celebrate the work rangers are doing to protect the world’s natural and cultural heritage.
The first World Ranger Day was held on July 31, 2007, the 15th anniversary of the International Ranger Federation (IRF).
The IRF was established in 1992 by the US Association of National Park Rangers, Scottish Countryside Rangers Association, and the Countryside Management Association, which represents rangers in Wales and England.
The IRF was established to raise support and awareness of the critical work that rangers around the globe do for the conservation of cultural and natural heritage.
Closer to home, the Game Rangers Association of Africa was founded in 1970 and currently boasts a membership base of 1 800 dedicated game rangers stationed in 26 countries around Africa.
A forest, park or game ranger is a person charged with protecting and conserving dedicated protected areas and educating visitors about the area’s flora and fauna. Rangers work together with volunteers and conservation staff to maintain infrastructures such as walkways, bridges, entry and exit points and footpaths.
They are usually the point of contact between a national or provincial park authority, the local community and park visitors.
An effective ranger would have immense knowledge of the history, wildlife, flora and local people within their respective areas of operation. Most rangers spend days at a time out in the field, checking and repairing fence lines, keeping animals away from local communities and protecting wildlife from poachers.
Rangers in South Africa and Africa have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. According to the Game Rangers Association of Africa, 86 rangers died in the line of duty from July 31, 2020 to July 31, 2021. Of these 86 rangers, 29 were killed by poachers, militants or terrorists. Of the 13 South Africans killed, two were murdered by suspected poachers.
According to the IRF, at least 384 rangers died protecting Africa’s wildlife and wild places between 2012 and 2021. An estimated 176 of these rangers had been gunned down by militia groups, unknown assailants or armed poachers working for multinational wildlife crime syndicates.
The World Wildlife Fund said in a statement that “the greatest threat to ranger safety and well-being may lie outside the protected area”. Illegal wildlife trade, driven by criminal syndicates, undermines the work of rangers and impacts their ability to effectively manage and conserve biodiversity.
Criminal syndicates often operate in communities where rangers and their families live. These criminal syndicates target rangers and their families through intimidation, coercion, physical harm and even death threats.
In addition, the anti-poaching response to relentless illegal incursions into protected areas exacts a heavy physical and emotional toll.”
According to a July 2021 report published by National Geographic: “In February, Kruger National Park reported that rhino numbers had dropped 70 percent during the past decade, from over 10 000 in 2010 to just under 4 000 today, primarily because of poaching.
“Demand for rhino horn comes mainly from China and Southeast Asia, where it’s made into ornamental carvings and used in traditional medicine, despite a lack of scientific evidence to support its efficacy. Worth more than its weight in gold, the role of rhino horn as a status symbol has further accelerated demand.
“We also pay tribute to family members left behind in the neighbouring communities whenever a ranger is killed. It is our duty to ensure the sacrifices made by rangers and their families do not go unnoticed and for us to continue to support Africa’s rangers,” said Andrew Campbell, CEO of the Game Ranger Association of Africa in a statement.
There are several ways you and your family can celebrate our conservation heroes. These may include:
Raising money for local ranger projects
Hosting school or community fundraisers for your local game rangers would be a fun and exciting way to show them that you are grateful for the work that they do. Funds raised can go toward supporting families of fallen rangers, replacing old equipment, park maintenance, training programmes for rangers or additional safety equipment.
Spread the word!
You can raise awareness through blogging, talking to friends or simply sharing a post on social media. There are countless pieces of amazing content online such as infographics and fact sheets, which you can share with others to raise awareness about the work that rangers do.
Host an event
Get together with some friends, your class or a local youth group and host an event at your local game park in honour of the rangers that protect it. You can host a clean-up or tree-planting event at the park or a picnic for the rangers.
Mark the occasion by learning about everything that rangers do, show them that they have the full support and trust of the community. These events can be held monthly or bi-monthly to build support and keep the momentum going.
Take a moment
Pause for a minute. Think about everything that game rangers do to protect our cultural and natural heritage, not only in South Africa but around the world. Without rangers standing guard, day and night, 365 days a year, many of Africa’s most precious animals – such as the lion, rhino and elephant – would have gone extinct decades ago. Many of us do not think of this. We should.
Just for a moment.