The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 October 2022
As we unfurl the calendar to mark the 50th anniversary of World Environment Day, it’s worth remembering how far we have come since the United Nations Environment Programme first kicked off this monumental occasion. Born from a need for change, World Environment Day has grown to be the most significant global environmental event. It’s a call to arms that resonates louder and clearer than ever, urging us to act, to cherish, to heal our remarkable, yet vulnerable planet.
In every corner of the world, an astonishing force for good is stirring, inspiring positive shifts of all kinds. From carbon tactics and tackling plastics to boosting ocean health and biodiversity wealth. These activities together represent the greatest show of planetary caretaking we’ve ever orchestrated; it’s the Earth mother of all environmental movements.
Rangers: our frontline force for nature
Across Africa’s wild spaces is scattered some of the world’s most remarkable supernature and, fortunately for us, protecting it is in the nature and hands of a very special taskforce. World Environment Day is the perfect stage for these men and women, our wildlife rangers, to stand tall, visible and supported. Their heroic endeavours would make many think more than twice…
Rangers work at the heart of the movement to protect nature; they forge ahead boldly to secure the planet’s greatest assets: rich and intact ecosystems. In their integral role as guardians of the environment they are responsible for safeguarding nature, as well as cultural and historical heritage, and the rights and wellbeing all generations. They work tirelessly, often in remote and challenging terrains, to combat illegal wildlife trade, poaching, habitat destruction, and other environmental crimes. They help to harmonise existence amongst communities and wildlife, being proud ambassadors for both.
From communities, for communities
Rangers are equipped not only to protect but also educate and mediate across conservation landscapes. They frequently come from the communities that reside in or border wildlife areas or parks and reserves – and, increasingly, are being empowered to work alongside these same local communities. This is a logical, impactful strategy in that they have an inherent grasp of the issues affecting people at the human-wildlife interface – people who are already doing their best to be good stewards of their land, but critically need support.
The human dimension of the job is often overlooked, but empathy and interaction are equally important in their skillset, in that rangers provide leadership, guidance and security to communities. This is of immense benefit and reassurance to those who are struggling to coexist with wildlife – a stark reality in protected areas where space and natural resources need to be shared. Crucially, they are entrusted with keeping people safe and protecting their crops.
Helping these communities to manage and adapt to life’s circumstances also includes conducting research aimed at improving the understanding of communities’ livelihoods and their environmental perceptions and attitudes. Rangers engage with children too, helping them to gain hands-on environmental experience in national parks, and better relate to wildlife up-close.
Boots on the back foot
Adequate numbers of competent, well-resourced, and well-led rangers are the foundation for effective management of protected and conserved areas, for landscapes that are shared by people and wildlife. Without their boots on the ground, conservation would be out of touch with the landscape, and unresponsive to the daily challenges facing vast tracts of wild Africa and, particularly, the continent’s rural communities. But sadly, many rangers are unrecognised, under-appreciated, and under-resourced. Worryingly, 88.6% of rangers surveyed across Africa have faced life-threatening situations.
In light of our ambitious 30×30 global biodiversity targets, this paints a bleak picture for us all. To reach the proposed target of 30% coverage of protected areas by 2030, the number of rangers employed in Africa would need to skyrocket by around 2000%. But we can solve this dilemma by providing more support to ranger teams and uplifting the ranger profession. We need to recognise the indispensable contribution of rangers to conservation.
Enter: the Wildlife Ranger Challenge 2023!
This is why we’re so excited to boost and boast about the launch of this year’s Wildlife Ranger Challenge! As we prepare for World Ranger Day on Monday 31st July 2023, more than 100 teams of rangers across Africa are gearing up for the fourth annual Wildlife Ranger Challenge. Coordinated by Tusk and the Game Rangers Association of Africa, the multi-million fundraising initiative features a series of dust, sweat and tears fitness challenges and culminates with a 21km half-marathon race on 16 September 2023.
What started as a response to the Covid-19 crises to keep wildlife rangers employed has now become an annual celebration of unity and camaraderie among the ranger community. This year, we spotlight the multifaceted role of rangers as conservationists, teachers, community support workers and leaders, contributing not just to their immediate communities but to the global UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The campaign joins thousands of rangers from 24 African nations with supporters from over 90 countries across the world, uniting the global North and the South for a common goal: to raise money to boost thousands of rangers – to stoke morale and resources – and ensure a future for Africa’s biodiversity. With over $16 million raised to date, the groundswell of support for the ranger workforce is already widening access to essential equipment, enhanced training and protective measures.
Find out more, donate to the cause or sign up to run in solidarity with Africa’s conservation champions on 16 September 2023 at WildlifeRangerChallenge.org. Whatever the distance, Wildlife Ranger Challenge supporters from all over the world have made a huge difference to those on the front line of conservation in Africa; no effort invested is wasted.
Let’s join hands, pull on boots and hit the ground for Africa’s unsung environmental heroes!