As we mark World Ranger Day 2020 on Friday 31st July, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) South Africa and the Southern Africa Wildlife College celebrate and commend the rangers who work tirelessly to conserve our protected areas. We are grateful for their commitment and we see their sacrifices.
Rangers work across protected and wilderness areas allowing us to experience natural and cultural wonders. They are also interpreters, researchers, monitors, maintainers, educators, relationship-builders, communicators and guardians.
Resilient rangers require targeted training and skills which extend beyond the environmental conservation and law enforcement training of the past. Together with other areas of support to rangers – such as adequate basic necessities at work, emotional wellness, and compensation comparable with other sectors performing similar functions to uphold the law – these skills are vital to help rangers cope with the challenges they face.
The new Braveheart Ranger Leadership Development Programme is a curriculum that aims to develop skills in holistic leadership, conflict resolution, community engagement, negotiation and mediation, law enforcement ethics and corruption mitigation.
The curriculum was developed by the Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC) with support from WWF South Africa, through the Khetha Programme supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The SAWC piloted the Braveheart ranger training earlier this year and it will now be offered to rangers as they progress in their careers.
Increasingly, rangers are drawn into law enforcement activities to respond to continued pressures, driven by sophisticated syndicates within the highly organised illegal wildlife trade. In South Africa, rhino horn and ivory trafficking is on the increase. Standing between the wildlife traffickers and the wildlife, are our rangers.
Apart from the obvious threats to their lives, such as encounters with armed poachers or dangerous wildlife in the field, rangers have other challenges too. More often than not, these men and women are drawn from communities living close to protected areas and wildlife where there are high levels of unemployment, poor access to essential services, and limited economic opportunities.
Rangers may be the only breadwinners for their extended families. Their work is dangerous and can result in leaving family behind with no income, no support and no safety net. Powerful criminal syndicates embed themselves in these areas because of their proximity to protected areas with high-value wildlife, and target vulnerable individuals, rangers and their families through intimidation or enticement, especially where they know families are financially stressed.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made things worse. Besides the impact on the health of people, the economic decline is deepening socio-economic challenges, escalating unemployment and threatening food security. Parks and nature reserves have suffered significant financial losses from a lack of tourism, limiting operational budgets which affect rangers, their work, their families and the community at large. With restrictions on movement, especially in the early stages of lockdown, rangers who have been able to continue working have been isolated from seeing their families for longer than usual, compounding the already long periods they may be away from home.
Craig Hay, Southern African Wildlife Trafficking Hub Lead, WWF South Africa:
“It is essential that rangers have opportunities for development, including the necessary leadership and soft skills required to deal with the emerging challenges they face. The Braveheart curriculum will contribute significantly towards elevating the impact that rangers have in their profession, and create opportunities for self-development and career advancement that are so critical in recognising and motivating rangers in the essential work they do.”
Ashwell Glasson, Head: Academic Policy Development and Sector Advancement, Southern African Wildlife College:
“With growing pressure on conservation, protected areas and biodiversity globally, rangers are increasingly required to lead and solve challenges of massive magnitude and diversity. Such challenges require them to expand their role from law enforcement and conservation management, to include community and broader societal needs. Braveheart focuses on developing holistic leadership competencies and also providing meaningful, transformative development opportunities for existing rangers to grow in their careers.”
Dr Jo Shaw, Senior Manager Wildlife Programme, WWF South Africa:
“We know that the emotional and mental pressure of both their work and the responsibilities towards their families, weigh more heavily on rangers than their traditional boots and backpacks. This is why, with our partners, we identified the need to support the development of the Braveheart curriculum that takes a far more holistic approach to the many challenges they face.”