Park rangers use Forest Watcher. Creative Commons, World Resources.

Africa's wildlife rangers are racing for help to protect biodiversity

Scroll through the Twitter account of Wildlife Conservation Society’s Nigeria Program and you will see a video of four men doing push-ups to the sound of birds chirping in the background. They are rangers in the Yankari Game Reserve in Nigeria and they are preparing for the Wildlife Rangers Challenge, a race to raise funds to support protected areas in Africa.

Wildlife rangers are critical in the anti-poaching efforts that help to mitigate biodiversity loss across Africa. A recent study by The Society for Conservation Biology has found that "protected areas are now the last strongholds for many imperiled mammal species" and that "adequately resourcing those protected areas critical in sustaining mammal species, is now essential to avert a worldwide rapid mammal loss." This is also backed by the 'Global Safety Net', which contends that protecting half of the Earth's terrestrial, freshwater, and marine realms by 2030, is the best way to fight the crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.

"Dying lion". Creative Commons, B. Negin. 

However, many of the protected areas in Africa are often plagued by a lack of resources and worse, COVID-19 has crippled the tourism sector which brings in revenue for these protected areas. "Rangers faced many challenges long before COVID-19," said Andrew Campbell, CEO of Game Rangers Association of Africa (GRAA). "One of the major challenges is always the scarce financial resources," however, COVID-19 has further amplified this by “putting pressure on revenue generation for parks since the decline in wildlife-based tourism,” he added. This has translated into pay cuts and delays in salaries. The Game Ranger Association of Africa estimates that there is a minimum of 40,000 rangers in Africa and that a significant number of them have been affected. Many have seen their salary reduced 30 to 70%.

"With more than a thousand safari employees not working or at home on reduced wages, snaring and conflict is expected,” said Benson Kanyembo, Law Enforcement Advisor at Conservation South Luangwa in Zambia, as he narrated the challenges of safeguarding biodiversity in his country before and during COVID-19. "Locally we have lost funds that come from tourism, but luckily our international donors are still funding us," he added. Benson is currently training four men in preparation for the Wildlife Rangers Challenge.

Ranger in the Bush. Creative Commons, Geoff Livingston. 

The Challenge, which will be held on the 3rd of October, is overseen by an independent steering committee made up of conservation leaders and is being coordinated by a collaboration of leading ranger associations. Its overall aim is to raise funds to support protected areas struggling with inadequate resources in order to further conservation efforts on the African continent.

There are three main components to the challenge: a competition, a ranger fund, and an online photography auction. The competition is a race between ranger teams across the continent with the opportunity for the public to participate. The ranger fund is an awareness campaign that seeks to raise $10 million to support rangers. Already, the Scheinberg Relief Fund has committed a $5 million matching fund in support of rangers in most need. The proceeds from the online photography auction will also go into the rangers’ fund, according to the organizers. As a result, 117 protected areas and 8,109 rangers will benefit from grants across the continent.

Sydney Njobvu, one of the rangers being trained by Benson, said the funds raised from the ranger challenge will help them to continue their work by buying rations for anti-snaring and long field patrols, paying salaries for wildlife rangers, and for vehicle maintenance. Veterinary drugs for immobilizing and treatment for de-snaring will also be purchased with the money raised, as well as fuel for patrol and a human-wildlife conflict assessment will be made. 

"The Rangers Challenge is a much-needed savior to provide some basic funding to maintain minimal levels of operations by supporting the Rangers and their work,"  said Ali Kaka, Wildlife Sector Policy Advisor at the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife of Kenya and Vice President of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). He added that "it also has provided a much-needed motivation and encouragement with the various activities and recognition that comes with it."