A Forgotten Step in Saving African Wildlife: Protecting the Rangers
The New York Times by RACHEL NUWERNOV. 28, 2016
David Piroris, left, and Solomon Ngila of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy’s antipoaching dog unit in Kenya, training Maxo. Credit Rachel Nuwer
ISIOLO, KENYA — Anna Phiri was 15 when her mother, a park ranger in Zambia, was murdered by poachers.
On Sept. 2, 2010, Esnart Paundi was standing guard with a colleague over two men they had caught with illegal bushmeat. What happened next is uncertain, but Ms. Phiri has heard that a third poacher, unknown to her mother, was hiding in the bush. He jumped out and slashed her colleague’s head with a machete.
Ms. Paundi, who was unarmed, ran. But the poachers gave chase, and when they caught her, they killed her.
Ms. Paundi, 38, was the breadwinner for her five siblings, and she left behind five children, now orphans. Though she died serving her country and protecting its wildlife, she had no life insurance, and officials offered no assistance to her family. “They didn’t even say anything to us,” Ms. Phiri said.
The world depends on individuals like Ms. Paundi to protect increasingly imperiled wildlife. But many rangers do not receive the support they need. A recent World Wildlife Fund study of 570 rangers in 12 African countries found that 59 percent did not have basic supplies like boots, tents and GPS devices, and that 42 percent had not received adequate training.
Despite the critical role rangers play in the poaching crisis, conservation organizations tend to overlook the need for everyday resources, said Peter Newland, the director of training at 51 Degrees, a private security company in Kenya.
“Donors outside of Africa want to see sexy, high-tech solutions like drones and ground sensors, not to hear about the need for warm clothing, boots and better food for rangers,” he said. “Large nongovernmental groups spend huge amounts, yet there are rangers calling me for socks.”
The wildlife fund study also found that 82 percent of rangers had faced life-threatening situations, including attacks by poachers and animals. Ms. Paundi was one of more than 1,000 rangers killed on the job over the past 10 years, according to the Thin Green Line Foundation, which supports park rangers and their families. Many receive little or nothing from the government.
Another World Wildlife Fund study, in 10 African countries, found that just 60 percent of rangers had health insurance, 50 percent had life insurance and 40 percent had long-term disability insurance.
“Imagine how demotivating it would be to see a mate killed and then to witness his family removed from their house and his kids taken out of school because they receive no wage as a thank you for his sacrifice after he’s gone,” said Sean Willmore, who founded the Thin Green Line Foundation. “Morale plays a massive role in reducing poaching.”
Governmental corruption makes a ranger’s job even more difficult in many parts of Africa. Poachers have been supported by officials in a number of countries. But rangers would be in trouble even if there were no corruption, Mr. Willmore said.
In the last two years, the foundation has spent $1.2 million on equipment and training for rangers and has supported more than 150 families of those killed in the line of duty, including Ms. Paundi’s. The organization is putting her children through school.
Similarly, For Rangers, a charity co-founded by Mr. Newland that raises money through extreme racing events, has donated $200,000 worth of gear, vehicles, medical supplies and family aid to rangers at 10 parks throughout Africa since April 2014.