World Ranger Day in Ottawa
A highlight of the premier of the ‘The Thin Green Line’ in Ottawa were the words of John Waithaka, an Ecosystem Scientist from Kenya, presently working with Parks Canada (National Office) and who assisted Michel Villineuve with the presentation of the film. His presentation on the Rangers in Africa was outstanding and caused a spontaneous round of applause. Here is a summary of what he said…
A tribute to Rangers in Danger in Africa
By John Waithaka
July 31, 2007
· I wish to thanks Parks Canada and Environment Canada for organizing this occasion to pay tribute to the work that rangers perform to protect the last of the earth’s natural and cultural resources and to remember the many rangers who have been injured or killed in the line of duty.
· The rangers are the principal guardians of what you see behind the beautiful postcards of international parks and reserves, and in many parts of the world, they are as endangered as the endangered species and spaces they protect.
· I am privileged to join you and all other people worldwide who are celebrating the first International Day of the Ranger. Considering the importance of role they play and the dangers they face every day, I am amazed that a day to recognize them – the International Day of the Ranger – did not come earlier.
· I was born and brought up in Africa – in Kenya – a country that is known for its rich biodiversity and huge populations of large mammals, resources currently endangered by human activities. The Rangers spend sleepless nights fighting for the survival of what is remaining. I pay tribute to them.
· I grew up outside Aberdares National Park, a Protected Area with large populations of elephants, rhinos, leopards, hyenas, lions and other wild animals. The rangers kept them from harming us on the way to and from school, and worked day and night to keep them from our homes and farms. I pay tribute to them.
· I studied elephants in many national parks in Kenya. Not a single day did I go to take my samples without being accompanied by a ranger. As I graduated with honors degrees, the rangers who guarded me every day in the field remained in those remote areas, guarding the elephants. Nobody honored them. I pay tribute to them.
· For many years, I was a member of the IUCN SSC, African Elephant and Rhino Specialist Group, a group credited with playing a major role of saving the elephant and rhino. But it is the rangers who lost their lives battling it out with international gangs called poachers. For a period of about 20 years, 85% of the elephants and 98% of the rhinos were killed.
Nobody ever mentions the number of rangers who were killed or maimed, the families that were devastated, children who lost their parents, – and may now be living in abject poverty as a result. Not that the number is hard to get, but the priority lies elsewhere. We honor them today.
· I was later appointed the national coordinator of the Elephant Conservation and Community Wildlife program in Kenya. As we battled with the politicians, international pressure groups, people with conflicting interests – over the ivory trade and other aspects of elephant management, flying from one national capital to another, from one conference room to another, the rangers were on the ground battling with poachers or with crop-raiding elephants. We honor them for their sacrifices.
· The rangers are not only killed by poachers, but many are bitten by poisonous snakes, ripped off by the crocodile, gored by the buffalo, killed by the elephant, mauled by the lion and the leopard, devastated by disease-carrying tropical bugs, fall from a cliff or swept away by floods. We pay tribute to them.
· In the April – June Newsletter of the International Ranger Federation, the editor noted that that was the only Issue without reported deaths of Rangers, and was thankful. However, the Issue had missed an incident on May 19 2007 when three rangers were killed by poachers outside Tsavo National Park, Kenya. Rangers are in danger all the time. We pat tribute to them.
· In Africa, rangers live in dangerous conditions, often carry out their duties in very stressful environments characterized by;
· Insecurity from highly organized gangs of poachers
· Exposure to many tropical diseases, such as malaria and pneumonia, and others
· unpredictable political environments
· Manipulation by corrupt supervisors and political leaders
· Discouragement and uncertainty – particularly when political regimes change, they see willful neglect or destruction of what they have fought so hard for so long to save, and what many of their colleagues have died for.
· Hostility as are sometimes blamed (and even hated) for enforcing unpopular policies that were passed on to them to implement, but had no chance to give input.
· Inadequate support: They often lack facilities to do their work, including basic things like appropriate protective clothing and sufficient food.
· Complex social environments: Some do not have sufficient training to handle the complex issues they face daily such as refugees in national parks
· They are among the lowest paid professionals, not mentioning that most of their families become unstable because of their prolonged absence from home.
· During the first international Day of the Ranger, it is fitting to recognize the brave men and women who have died while protecting our shared resources from human greed, corruption and misguided priorities, and to pledge our commitment to support those who are putting their lives on the line daily – selflessly working and struggling to protect and manage the natural and cultural resources we all hold dear.
· Long live the Rangers