Today we celebrate World Ranger Day. We commemorate those rangers all over the world who have died in the course of their duties but also those who risk their lives every day at the forefront of conservation. While some are exposed to hazardous environmental conditions such as floods or dangerous animals, others are targeted because they stand up to poachers, drug warlords and criminals. This year alone, at least 31 were murdered, some under the most horrific circumstances.
"Those of us who proudly bear the name of 'park ranger', or a similar designation, recognize that our chosen career will never bring us great riches or fame", says Roger Cole, Countryside Management Association, England and Wales. But we all carry the hope that our efforts are helping to contribute to the protection of species, habitats and resources for the enrichment of future generations. On World Ranger Day 2011 we take a moment to remember all our colleagues, known and unknown, who have paid the ultimate price during the past year. Their loss is deeply felt amongst the world-wide community of fellow rangers, the more so when that death is at the hands of others or in work-related accidents. We salute their sacrifice."
While the concern for those that have died and for their families is paramount, it is also clear that this is the tip of the iceberg of the problem. Many rangers are exposed to threats on a daily basis, their families are intimidated and they are prevented from carrying out their work.
In some cases, the cause may be a lack of understanding of the role of the protected areas and ranger staff among communities affected by the establishment or management of the protected area. Most protected area agencies have extensive programmes to ensure that benefits accrue to communities, and that the opportunities created by protected areas result in better livelihoods, employment and capacity development. But it is also true that in some cases, rangers are simply standing in the way of those with corrupt or criminal interests. As resources outside of protected areas dwindle, so the pressure on protected areas and on rangers is likely to increase.
IUCN, the International Ranger Federation and The Thin Green Line Foundation work together to highlight this situation and, in particular, to provide support to the families of rangers that have died in service. The International Ranger Federation provides rangers with a platform to share successes and failures, to promote information and technology transfer to areas where it is most needed and to maintain public awareness of the role and plight of rangers. The Thin Green Line Foundation, through The Ranger Dependents’ Fund, has supported 17 families to date and has supplied $10,000 in emergency assistance in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Foundation has recently approved support to another 40 families of rangers killed in Africa and South America, as well as promoting measures to prevent further ranger deaths. Despite these efforts, the scale of support needed is huge as more than 1,000 ranger families have applied for assistance.
“Providing relief for those that are affected is essential,” says Trevor Sandwith, Director of IUCN’s Global Protected Areas Programme. “Yet we must also address the underlying causes that often include a lack of training, poor relationships with communities, as well as the demand for scarce resources driven from far afield. IUCN's World Commission on Protected Areas is working hard to put in place capacity development programmes to increase institutional and individual skills, to mobilize investment in better staffing, equipment and training, and to ensure that rangers are well resourced and supported by their employers. At least part of the solution is to ensure that protected area systems are established legitimately and with the support of affected communities, that protected area agencies develop strategies and approaches that deal with risks and that the skills of rangers in these situations are professional and appropriate.”
To donate or learn more about the Thin Green Line Foundation and the Ranger Dependents’ Fund, visit http://www.thingreenline.info/front . All donations to the Fund go directly to the families affected by these deaths.