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Lives on the Line: How Rangers Risk it All for Wildlife


Today, we celebrate World Ranger Day and share the vital role of a wildlife ranger in the war against wildlife crime.  

Working in some of the planet’s most extreme and dangerous environments, anti-poaching rangers do one of the most challenging jobs in the world. Still, without rangers, there would be no hope for critically endangered species. They work tirelessly day and night in often hostile conditions to protect wildlife on the conservation frontline. Below, we get a glimpse of what life is like on the front line of conservation. 

Image credit: Saving Vietnams Wildlife

Asia – Fighting the Elements and Wildlife Crime 

“Patrol in the Flood Season”: The story is narrated by Loc Van Tao – an anti-poaching officer with one of our partner projects in Pu Mat National Park. We join him on a challenging journey with forest rangers as they patrol during the flood season in Vietnam.  

It was a beautiful day, just like any other, when suddenly, in the middle of the night, about 1 a.m., we heard someone shouting, “Water’s coming, water’s coming, run fast!”. We quickly grabbed what we could and rushed deeper into the forest to escape the flood. 

Image credit: Saving Vietnams Wildlife

As the morning came, we searched for our things, hoping to find anything left behind in the mess of leaves and branches. 

In the days that followed, we supported each other, even though we were hungry and had to face big streams of water to get out of the forest. We missed our families and didn’t know if we would ever see them again. 

When we finally returned, we discovered many other patrol groups faced the flood. We felt lucky to be safe, but the memories of what happened still bothered us. Our feet hurt and bled because we lost our only sandals in the flood. Our phones got wet and stopped working. And the fear of almost being swept away while crossing the floodwaters. Luckily, a ranger noticed and saved me just in time. 

Despite these harsh memories, we kept moving forward because we knew the forest needed our help and protection. 

– Loc Van Tao 

Image credit: Martin Aveling

Africa – Protection on Patrol  

“Zambian night-time scare”: This story is narrated by Martin Aveling – long-time friend and Wildlife Artist of the Year ‘Art of Survival’ Winner on an overnight camp with our frontline scouts in Kafue National Park. 

It’s 3 a.m. and I am woken by the sound of something moving outside my tent. I slowly crawl to the entrance and peer out of a small triangle mesh at the top of the zip. My view is partially obstructed by a large dark mass just a few feet away, and I quickly realise it’s a hippo. Feeling rather exposed in a tiny one-person canvas tent, I remain motionless, desperately hoping it doesn’t make a left turn. Thankfully it does not, and as it creeps forward it reveals three other hippos, two adults and a baby, peacefully grazing under the light of a full moon. In a tent to my right is my artist friend and travel companion, Detlef Tibax, we are flanked by two wildlife rangers, Billy and Clever, A voice from the tent next to me asks “are these buffalos?”, and I mutter back, “hippos”. Billy gives me a measuring “OK”, and we sit and wait for them to move on before falling back to sleep.  
Later, we reflect on what a thrilling experience it has been camping out with the scouts, we quizzed them extensively about their job, naturally curious to learn about the wildlife they encounter when out on patrol.  

Image credit: Detlef Tibax

It was then that they told us we could expect to have hippos grazing nearby in the night, assuring us that they would be aware of our presence and, as long as we didn’t make a racket, there shouldn’t be a problem. Despite their ferocious reputation, Billy and Clever see hippos as relatively docile. So much so that when they come across a sleeping hippo on patrol, it’s possible to go right up and touch it, although it’s not something they make a habit of. Buffalos are the animal that they fear most, hence the enquiry in the middle of the night. We are green with envy when they tell us that they occasionally see pangolins scuttling in the undergrowth, but as the discussion continues, we become acutely aware of just how dangerous their job is.  

The biggest threat is not from the wildlife they encounter, but rather from humans.  

Poachers are well armed, and they will shoot to kill if engaged in battle with the scouts. The human threat also extends well beyond the boundaries of the park. Intel is an important element of the work, and to gather information, they will often have to moonlight as actors, going undercover in surrounding villages and pretending to be in the market to buy bushmeat. If they are exposed, the consequences could be fatal –as some people will try anything to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.  
As we pack up camp and prepare to go on a game drive, we feel immensely grateful to Billy and Clever, and the approximately 80 other rangers in Kafue, who risk their lives to afford us the opportunities to view wildlife in its natural setting.  

– Martin Aveling

Image credit: Saving Vietnams Wildlife

Help for Our Heroes 

Their heroic efforts are a testament to the success of our ground-based conservation partners who provide unwavering operational, training, and welfare support. This World Ranger Day, please consider making a donation to the real heroes within conservation. 

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