Announcing the winners of the second International Ranger Awards

Nyaradzo Auxillia Hoto of the all-female International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) Akashinga Ranger team (Zimbabwe), winner of the 2022 International Ranger Award. Image credit: Courtesy of IUCN

Announcing the winners of the second International Ranger Awards

Winners of the second International Ranger Awards, presented by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), were announced in a ceremony at the IUCN African Protected Areas Congress in Kigali, Rwanda. Seven individual rangers and three teams from ten countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Australasia were recognized for going beyond the call of duty to protect the earth’s wild places and wildlife and to support local communities. Two winners received special awards for rangers working in areas where tigers are present.

Each winner or winning team receives US$10,000 to support the protected and conserved areas where they work and a custom uniform patch to signify their achievement. A further nine rangers and teams have been recognized with special commendations.

The International Ranger Awards were established with the support of the International Ranger Federation, Conservation Allies, Re:wild, and the Global Tiger Initiative.

“The world’s rangers are the unsung heroes and heroines of conservation. We rely on their perseverance and dedication to maintain a healthy planet for wildlife and for people. The work of these women and men work is skilled and diverse: they are protectors, educators, community facilitators, and wildlife monitors, working in protected areas, private reserves, Indigenous territories, and community conservancies. WCPA is delighted to be a partner recognizing these new awards which recognize their vital work.” —  Dr Madhu Rao, Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas

Meet the winners

Nyaradzo Auxillia Hoto (IAPF Akashinga Program, Wildlife Management Areas of the Lower Zambezi, Zimbabwe)

Nyaradzo Auxillia Hoto, a local community member, has been a member of the all-female Akashinga Ranger team since 2017, helping to pioneer more inclusive and less confrontational approaches to the protection that focus on positive social impacts as well as on conservation.

Her courage, perseverance, diligence, and honesty have helped her overcome personal and professional obstacles to become a respected and trusted ranger sergeant. Operating with her team in often dangerous environments, her innovative work has proved highly effective in reducing poaching, building local support, and empowering local women, earning her colleagues' admiration and her community's support.

Orang National Park and Tiger Reserve Ranger Team (Orang National Park and Tiger Reserve, India)

The Orang National Park and Tiger Reserve ranger team is deployed for long periods in remote areas that are both challenging and hazardous. Their efforts have led to significant decreases in the poaching of tigers and rhinos.

The team has demonstrated considerable skill, courage, and perseverance in addressing the impacts of tigers straying from the reserve into local communities, endangering people and their livestock. They have successfully captured and relocated straying tigers and secured the cooperation and confidence of affected communities.

Masungi-Bayog Ranger Team (Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape, Philippines)

This young ranger team protects the Upper Marikina Watershed from illegal encroachment and destruction, helping to secure essential ecosystem services for around 20 million people. The team has endured harsh working conditions, personal discrimination, intimidation, and violence. In tackling the upsurge in illegal activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, team members suffered serious injuries from armed attackers and were subject to arbitrary detention. Despite this, they have always returned to their duties and extended the area under patrol and protection.

The team’s courage and determination have attracted national recognition and have stimulated increased official action against violators in the area.

Jorge Banegas Franco. Image credit: International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Gabriel Chavez Seoane

Tiger Protection & Conservation Unit (Kerinci Seblat National Park, Indonesia)

Over 20 years, the Kerinci Seblat Tiger Protection & Conservation Unit has established an exemplary record for the protection of Sumatran Tigers and other endangered wildlife. The team also conducts human-wildlife conflict mitigation, responds to wildlife emergencies, and secures tiger habitats in and around the park.

Working in often dangerous conditions, the team members' skill, dedication, and personal sacrifices have led to successful prosecutions of poachers and traders, measurable declines in poaching, and significant increases in tiger sightings. Their success has led the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to declare Kerinci Seblat National Park as a 'role model' for tiger conservation.

Jorge Banegas Franco (Parque Nacional y Área Natural de Manejo Integrado Pantanal de Otuquis, Bolivia)

During his career, Jorge Banegas Franco has acquired and passed on practical expertise across a wide range of ranger operations, including protection, firefighting, ecosystem and wildlife monitoring, and visitor management. As a member of an Indigenous community, he has prioritized integration of the culture, needs, and wishes of local and Indigenous communities with the management of the protected areas where he works.

As a ranger leader, he has demonstrated skill, commitment, and innovative thinking in problem-solving, planning ranger operations, and supporting ranger teams operating in remote and challenging areas.

Hector Luis Espinoza Acevedo (Paso del Istmo Wildlife Corridor, La Flor Wildlife Refuge, Nicaragua)

Hector Espinosa is an Indigenous ranger who has for ten years dedicated himself to conserving the Critically Endangered yellow-naped amazon parrot in La Flor Wildlife Refuge, becoming an acknowledged expert in parrot surveys, monitoring, and husbandry. Despite the impacts on his family from Hurricane Nate in 2017, his commitment to restoring nest sites was critical to the recovery of the parrot population. As a result of his work and that of his team, the parrot population has stabilized, their forest habitat is recovering, and Hector has become an inspiration for conservation efforts across the wider landscape.

Yyondji Community EcoGuards. Image credit: International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 

Felipe Otoniel León Angel  (Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Mártir, Mexico)

Despite difficult and deteriorating working conditions, Felipe Otoniel León Angel has persevered in his dedication to lead, equip and train his ranger team to fight dangerous forest fires in the remote and fragile pine forests of Baja California. His determined efforts on behalf of his team have secured equipment and medical support essential for their effectiveness and wellbeing.

As a committed communicator, educator, and photographer, he has inspired adults and young people from local communities to support and participate in the protection of the National Park.

Ben ‘Yuddiy’ Brown (Pila Nature Reserve, Australia)

A Traditional Owner from the Martu lands, Ben ‘Yuddiy’ Brown plays a vital role in sustaining joint management of Pila Nature Reserve by the Warnpuru Aboriginal Corporation Rangers and the DBCA. Based far from his home, he plans, organizes, and leads ranger operations into the remote Reserve, a task involving frequent long and hazardous excursions.

He faces considerable challenges in balancing government employment with being a member of a traditional group of people with deep cultural connections to the country. He has met these challenges in a selfless and dignified way that has required considerable personal sacrifices.

Anti-Poaching Tracking Specialists K9 Unit (Savé Valley Conservancy, Zimbabwe)

Working with limited resources and in often dangerous conditions, the ATS K9 unit has pioneered the use of highly trained dogs to support coordinated anti-poaching operations and has developed and field-tested standard methods for monitoring rhino populations and conservation efforts. The team works closely with national authorities and has attracted increasing and vital support from the communities where most rangers are recruited. Their work has successfully and significantly reduced poaching in the Savé Valley Conservancy, leading to outstanding success in the recovery of populations of black and white rhinos and other species.

Popote Ole Sapulai. Image credit: International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Josh Clay

Ali Hassan Ali (Bura East Community Conservancy, Kenya)

Ali Hassan is a pioneer in conservation and ranger work in south-eastern Kenya. After 15 years as a ranger in Arawale National Reserve, he was instrumental in establishing the Bura East Community Conservancy and the program for conserving the Critically Endangered hirola antelope. He has overcome continuous security threats, injury at the hands of poachers, and tensions with his own community, to become a respected and highly effective ranger leader, field surveyor, educator, and communicator, committed to securing the future of the hirola and other threatened species and the wellbeing of local people.

Yyondji Community Eco-guards (Yyondji Community Bonobo Reserve, Democratic Republic of Congo)

This team of community eco-guards courageously protects their community reserve from poaching, monitors populations of threatened species, and works within their communities to provide education and livelihood support. Although frequently exposed to danger, and lacking in equipment and official recognition, the team has decreased poaching, secured the arrest of a persistent and dangerous poacher, and made the forests safer for communities to collect the products they depend on. The team has also undertaken pioneering work in their communities to secure the social acceptance of female rangers in their team.

Popote Ole Sapulai (Kimana Sanctuary, Kenya)

A member of the local community, Popote Sapulai has been a ranger for 19 years, working at times without a salary and supporting his ranger team from his own resources when needed. His leadership and courage in tackling poaching in the area have been exceptional, and he has demonstrated courage and diplomacy in peacefully resolving conflicts between communities and wildlife. As a trusted and widely respected senior ranger, his unwavering dedication to safeguarding the area has earned him the respect of his community and has inspired many young people to follow his path.

“Alongside their extraordinary stories of courage and commitment, what is remarkable about this year’s winners is their diversity. They include women, men, and young people, and a very high proportion of them are members of the local communities where they work. This diversity is what the International Ranger Federation is striving for in the sector, as it is the key to tackling the complex challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.” — Chris Galliers, President of the International Ranger Federation. 
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