National Endangered Species Day – Celebrating the unsung heroes
Working in some of the planet’s most extreme and dangerous environments, anti-poaching rangers do one of the toughest jobs in the world. They work tirelessly day and night, in often hostile conditions, to protect wildlife on the conservation front line.
Across almost all David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) funded projects in Africa and Asia, rangers play a crucial role in protecting species. Technological solutions, such as remote cameras and GPS collaring of animals, are extremely important in monitoring and protecting wildlife, but often there is no substitute for a traditional boots-on-the-ground approach to deterring poachers.
Protecting Rhinos in Namibia
Nowhere is this more evident than in northern Namibia, where our conservation partners on the ground, work to protect the world’s largest and most important population of free-roaming black rhinos. The area is vast (25,000 km2) and not formally protected as a national park, and the terrain is arid, bumpy, and with few roads. In this context, by far the most effective way to protect and monitor the rhinos is through extensive ranger patrols, either on foot or using mules, who are comfortable walking long distances over the rocky ground.
DSWF supports seven rangers in total. As well as providing salaries, pensions and kit, our funding is also used to increase ranger welfare, including through the provision of medical support. Recognition of the fantastic work that the rangers do is equally important in motivating them, so we also support ranger incentive schemes, ranger awards, and female ranger lunches. All rangers are employed from the local community, providing a huge boost of income to the economy in an area where job opportunities are scarce.
The statistics on the work done by the rangers are staggering. The rangers in Namibia covered over 56,000 kilometres on foot patrols in 2022 (to put this in context, the circumference of the earth is approximately 40,000 kilometres). The rangers can be out in the field, away from their families, for up to three weeks at a time – demonstrating their extraordinary commitment to protecting the rhinos.
This approach is clearly paying off. It is now close to three years since a rhino was poached in this area, a fantastic achievement made more impressive by the rhino poaching epidemic happening in other parts of Namibia and neighbouring South Africa. 87 rhinos were poached in Namibia in 2022 (compared to 45 the previous year) and 448 in South Africa.
Despite this fantastic success, continued vigilance is required. Our partners on the ground will soon be working to protect rhinos in an additional landscape in north-western Namibia, and poaching pressure is sure to continue in the original project area given the decimation of rhinos elsewhere.
The Huge Impact of Rangers in Other DSWF Supported Projects
The heroic work done by the rangers in Namibia is just one example in many of the fantastic work done by rangers in DSWF funded conservation projects. Here are some more recent examples.
In Assam, northern India, ranger patrols and a K-9 unit, supported by DSWF, play an integral role in protecting populations of the greater one horned rhino and tigers in four protected areas. In total, we provide field kit and equipment for over 250 patrol team members. This project has been another outstanding conservation success story, protecting the world’s last large population of one horned rhinos (there are 2,885 in this area out of a global population of less than 4,000). The rhino population continues to grow, without a single loss to poaching in the area in 2022, which is hugely encouraging and testament to the fantastic work done by the rangers.
In Thailand, anti-poaching patrols supported by DSWF, helped protect a critical population of Indochinese tigers in the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex. Across the border in Vietnam, our project partners provide crucial ranger patrols protecting pangolins and other endangered wildlife. In one of the national parks, they work in (Pu Mat), the project’s anti-poaching efforts have been particularly successful with illegal human activities deceasing by 60% since 2018, and a marked increase in species numbers has been documented. DSWF funding will now also be used for anti-poaching patrols in three other national parks – Cat Tien, U Minh Thuong, and U Minh Ha, where our project partners hope to replicate this success. The ranger patrols supported by DSWF in these areas protect 68% of bird species, 49% of mammal species, 34% of amphibian species, and 27% of all reptile species in Vietnam.
In Zimbabwe, DSWF supported ranger patrols in areas in and around Hwange National Park, are crucial in protecting the packs of painted dogs which roam this vast area. Around 200 dogs live here, a crucial stronghold given less than 6,000 remain in the wild. The snaring of wildlife is a huge problem, and the dogs are frequently caught in snares. It is only because of the extensive ranger patrols and coverage of a huge area, and the rapid response to reports of snaring incidents, that the dogs can be freed from snares and treated for injuries before they succumb to death. The removal of snares before they trap the dogs is equally important – our partners removed over 5,000 snares from the field last year, saving the lives of at least 500 animals. The success of the DSWF funded anti-poaching patrols have also inspired local communities to set up their own community anti-poaching patrols, providing further protection for the dogs and much needed income for the local communities.
In neighbouring Zambia, DSWF funded ranger patrols in the areas bordering Kafue National Park, provide crucial protection to elephants released from our project partner’s Wildlife Rescue Programme, as well as protecting wild herds and other wildlife. The rangers also play a crucial role in preventing and mitigating human-wildlife conflict in the communities that border the park.
Snaring is also a huge problem in Uganda, where our conservation partners on the frontline work to protect Uganda’s last stronghold population of lions in Murchison Falls National Park. Again, boots on the ground are vitally important, as in the short term, the most effective response to snaring is for rangers and scouts to cover as big an area as possible, as frequently as possible, to remove them. Lions are sadly still caught in snares, but thanks to the DSWF supported patrols removing at least 100 snares and wheel traps (even more deadly contraptions made of springs from vehicle wheels) from the park every day, many lions and other wildlife are spared a grim death.
So, it’s clear just how vital the work carried out daily (year in and out) by DSWF funded rangers is. We often say we can’t do the incredible work we support and fund without you – but it’s especially true for our rangers. If you would like to be directly involved with supporting our ranger teams across Africa and Asia, you can sponsor a ranger through DSWF here. You’ll receive a wonderful welcome pack and regular updates from the field. You can also make a one-off or regular donation to DSWF here.