July 31 is World Ranger Day. What, did you forget a card? Ranger Day started in 2007, conceived and advanced by the International Ranger Federation, a consortium of 54 national and state ranger associations from countries around the world–from Korea to Scotland, from Argentina to Iceland, from South Africa to Romania. The idea is to give a little attention to the often unheralded people at the front lines of protecting our natural resources around the world. As you can see from the pictures above, that’s a serious undertaking.
The International Ranger Foundation works to train and fund rangers around the world to work even more efficiently as the first line of defense to protect vital species in parks. And they truly are a line of defense. Rangers put their own lives on the line, says Dr. Barney Long, a manager of WWF’s Asian Species Conservation Program. Rangers are the first line of defense against poachers. They often tend to live in remote locations away from family, friends, and amenities, where they are posted for days, says Long. “Typically, a ranger would wake up before dawn and get their food prepared and get out before light to nab any poachers. Animals are much more active in the early mornings, which means poachers are active as well. They may go on patrol eight hours a day, often on foot.”
In parks surrounded by poor communities, locals sometimes illegally enter the reserves to forage plants, water, fish. But most poaching of high-value species like tigers, rhino, or protected lumber comes from professional hunters and loggers. “These poachers are typically well-funded and organized and connected to criminal syndicates, whereas the rangers aren’t well armed and often don’t have access to communications equipment,” says Long.
“When poachers have four-wheel-drive Jeeps with floodlights and rifles and rangers often have a bicycle and some rubber boots and perhaps a knife, there’s a huge disconnect between the ability of a poacher and the ability of a ranger to stop the poacher,” he says.
According to The Thin Green Line, an Australian non-profit that supports rangers, more than 1,000 Park Rangers have been killed by commercial poachers and armed militia groups in the last decade, though the real figure is likely to be higher. In one park in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone, more than 183 rangers have been killed.