The Alibaba Foundation and The Paradise Foundation, a Chinese not-for-profit environmental conservation organisation, held the first annual African Ranger Awards ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa on 7 August,2018.

The Awards recognize 50 wildlife rangers working in 17 African countries, and aim to raise global awareness about the need to conserve Africa’s wildlife and the critical role that front-line rangers play in conservation.

In addition to a selection of the award winners, the event was attended by Jack Ma, Paradise Foundation co-chair and Alibaba Group Executive Chairman; Erik Solheim, UN Environment Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations; Edna Molewa, Minister of Environmental Affairs of the Republic of South Africa; and Songtian Lin, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa. Representatives of local and international NGOs and enterprises from China and Africa also took part.

The African Ranger Awards honors 50 frontline staff, awarding each ranger with a $3,000 grant. The honorees were selected from 146 nominations drawn from 21 African countries. Among the selected rangers, many have been injured or faced significant danger in confrontations with wildlife criminals. Five rangers who lost their lives in the course of their work were among the 50 award winners. Their families received their prize grants.

“These rangers are sacrificing so much to protect Africa’s wildlife against illegal hunting and trading. With this award, we hope both to recognize their important work and to bring greater attention to the ways in which we can all contribute to protecting the natural world,” said Jack Ma, Paradise Foundation co-chair and Alibaba Group Executive Chairman.  “Itis up to all of us to work together to safe-guard our planet’s wildlife and resources for future generations,he added.

The Paradise Foundation and the Alibaba Foundation are sponsoring in full both the cash rewards for outstanding rangers and the program’s management expenses for the next 10 years, expected to be $1.65 million in total.“Comparedto everything these rangers sacrifice, our contribution is small,” said Shawn Zhang, CEO of the Paradise Foundation.“Wehope that these awards will show them our appreciation and draw attention to their important work.”

The Paradise Foundation was founded by Mr. Ma and other Chinese entrepreneurs, artists and philanthropists to focus on preserving the planet through charitable actions, a scientific approach and efficient business management. Key initiatives include fostering linkages between Chinese charitable organizations and Africa’s nature reserves to retain the continent’s rich wildlife assets, as well as curbing the trade of illegal wildlife products.

“Alibaba is willing to work together with environmental organizations and environmentalists from all over the world to make full use of our strengths in platform and technology to empower environmental protection and combat illegal online trafficking of wildlife,” said Sun Lijun, a partner of Alibaba Group and chairman of Alibaba Public Welfare Foundation.“Ihope that more influential enterprises and institutions in the future will be able to stand up and act together to form a greater synergy, promote public awareness of environmental protection, and jointly suppress illegal poaching.”

During her speech Mrs Molewa said,“The country with the world’s largest population of rhino, South Africa is battling transnational syndicates who lure vulnerable communities to become involved in rhino poaching. As a result, the work of a ranger has become more diverse and complex, and regrettably, militarized. Just last month we lost a young field ranger in the Kruger National Park, just days before we commemorated World Ranger Day. Field ranger Respect Mathebula was the first ranger to be killed by poachers in the park in more than 50 years. Yes, we have lost rangers due to other forms of accidents which our rangers face on a daily basis. All these are equally important lives, which we so regret losing.

Hundreds of rangers are killed annually across the world in the line of duty. They don’t only fall prey to the poacher’s gun, but are targeted by insurgents in conflicts such as that in the DRC, Zimbabwe and Mozambique as well as by criminal syndicates involved in activities like illegal logging in countries such as Senegal.

As leaders of governments, business leaders and leaders of non-governmental organizations, we have to send a resounding message: This has to stop!  We cannot afford to lose a single man or woman who has dedicated their life to conservation.It starts with a recognition that poaching is not a one-dimensional problem, and cannot be solved by militarization alone. It necessitates an integrated approach that draws together all sectors of society, be it government, the private sector, the NGO and donor community and importantly, communities. We must do more to boost the morale of our rangers who work in extremely trying circumstances. They must know that their work is not in vain. These African Ranger Awards are indeed a step in the right direction and we once again commend the Alibaba Group and the Paradise Foundation for this pioneering initiative.”

The award winners represented just some of the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 frontline staff who risk their lives every day to protect Africa’s rich and diverse natural wildlife. They work in dangerous conditions, often far from their families and without the necessary resources. A 2016 survey found that 82% of rangers had faced mortal danger at work, and 60% had been directly attacked by poachers. Between 2000 and 2016, more than 1,000 of Africa’s rangers lost their lives protecting wildlife and wild habitats.

The winners included: 

• Asha Mnkeni, the first female ranger employed by Tanzania’s National Parks service

• Craig Williams, who helped reduce rhino poaching where he works in South Africa by 20%

• Fernando Macamero, who evicted illegal miners helping poachers in a Mozambique national park, facing a backlash including from his family, and was later blinded while on duty.

• Jeneria Lekilelei, a Kenyan herdsmen working with his peers to convince them not to kill lions.

• Nanyuki Lapalee, a Kenyan former poacher now using his bush skills for conservation, and working to reform other poachers.

• Voster Mweene, whose team has patrolled 43,000km of a Zambian national park, increasing arrests and convictions of poachers significantly.