It was a very chilly and misty morning, following a night of heavy down pour. All the tourists that had turned up that morning to visit the different tourist attractions in the park were clad in heavy tracking suites. Most were sipping on hot coffee and beaming with excitement on their yet to start adventures. Rangers very smart and happy were moving around from one tourist group to another welcoming them to Volcanoes national park and briefing them about their respective trips. A youthful Irakoze Emmanuel and an elderly but strong Francoise both rangers in Volcanoes national park welcomed my team that happened to be going on the Karisoke trail. They warned that the trail is most likely very slippery and muddy, and everybody needed to brace themselves for a tough hike.
I inquired of Emmanuel how he manages to track and range the park every day, and, his response was very humbling; “well I love what I do. I do it for me, for the tourists but above all I do it for mother nature and the beautiful wildlife”. Emmanuel reveals that it is hard work hiking and canvassing the forest everyday especially during the rainy season, but they do it anyway. And it not only helps keep them fit but also gets them to check and look out for the wildlife. Emmanuel says it is priceless to know that you are making a remarkable contribution to keep wildlife safe and secure in their natural habitat.
Benard Tibemanya a ranger in Bwindi Impenetrable national park adds “one thing I love about being a ranger is that I get to make a difference and contribute to reducing conservation threats like poaching and habitat destruction which consequently see to the increase in the number of endangered species like mountain gorillas”.
Four years of closely working with rangers has not only made me understand their work better or earned me friends but it has also got me to appreciate the different fears they carry with them every day and the daily challenges they encounter in the execution of their duties.
“My everyday fear is being caught in the middle of insecurity while in the park. My heart bleeds for the rangers in Virunga national park especially those that lost their lives in the line of duty (R.I.P). Parks should entirely be secure for both wildlife and the rangers. I am thankful for the security we have in Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area at the moment. It gives us confidence to wake up every day and spend more than half of one’s day in the wild” Jane Ahasiimire, BINP notes.
Sharing her experience as a lady ranger Jane notes that although being a ranger is fun because you have the opportunity to see mountain gorillas and other wildlife daily for free yet other people pay handsomely for the same experience, it is very challenging sometimes – the daily hikes and long distances trekked in the forest cause unending fatigue.
Whereas the rangers are doing a great job, they are times without number in the background of our sharing and work. Most often the focus is on the great mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, the wonderful monkeys, the amazing lions and beautiful birds; but who actually ensures that this wildlife we treasure is only alive and available to be seen because of some ranger somewhere? Behind a thriving wildlife population and safe wildlife habitat is a dedicated and committed ranger.
“In my twelve years as a ranger I’ve learnt that rangers are a key piece in conservation and our job benefits many people. We are relevant and play a big role” Raymond Kendero, Ranger, Volcanoes national park, Rwanda.
All rangers everywhere are exposed to several challenges out there including being in the face of fierce and dangerous wildlife, stinging and thorny thick vegetation, steep, rugged, slippery terrible terrain, unpredictable weather conditions, insecurity, unreliable communication and internet network, in-adequate safety measures e.g lack of first aid kits and lack of vaccination against key communicable diseases transferable from humans to wildlife and back.
Every 31st day of July since 2007, the world celebrates wildlife rangers. It is a day to sit back and reflect on the sacrifice that these unsung heroes make, a day to identify with them in every way including honoring the fallen rangers and their colleagues who still bravely undertake their role in the field.
Whereas being a ranger is a job that provides income to the individuals, speaking to several rangers has proven that it is more than just the money that keeps them motivated and on the job.
Immaculate Tukamushaba a ranger in BINP says she gets to learn her environment better and grow her career. “I love that I get to learn more and more about fauna and flora and the environment I live in. The things I never understood well or missed in school I have had the chance to learn and understand”.
Emmanuel Kansiime also a ranger in BINP says good results motivate him, “the statistics of tourists in Bwindi have increased over time, the 2015/2016 Virunga census results also showed an increase in the number of mountain gorillas. This means that our efforts are yielding good. It is encouraging and motivating to keep doing what we do even better”.
Marc Harerimana a tracker with Isimbi gorilla group in Volcanoes national park, shares that it means much making a contribution to saving a special and widely loved specie. “It is the least I can do for such an endangered but resourceful wildlife. They are close to mankind and this wins my admiration for them. It makes me feel obliged to protect them”.
Any lessons learned, “definitely” the trackers are quick to respond. Plan Tito a ranger in BINP notes “I have been a ranger for ten years but over time I have observed and learned that effective conservation facilitates development of the surrounding communities while Raymond Kendero in Volcanoes NP reveals “ I have learned that nature is life, if we don’t have the green cover then our lives are in danger, therefore we have a great calling to protect it, and that is what we do”.
Commenting on the role of the park adjacent communities in conservation, the rangers pointed out that if well sensitized, empowered and involved in conservation activities the community can contribute greatly to the safety of the wildlife and its habitat. And because of this, they have formally – through the community conservation programs of the parks and informally during their leisure time taken it upon themselves to talk conservation with the community. Gideon Ndaleghana in BINP “ It is important that we educate the community members at every opportunity we get, because in doing so we are making our work easier”.
No amount of words of gratitude or salary can equate to the sacrifice the rangers make or cover up the risks they are exposed to in the field, let alone fill in the gap of anxiety their families go through every time they head out for work. Conservationists and park authorities can only work hard together to ensure that the working environment is safe and secure first for the rangers as guardians of the wildlife and then for the wildlife that they have sworn an oath to protect.
Wildlife conservation without rangers can only be but an incomplete puzzle. They are the magicians behind the magic that we pay to see, the unseen force behind the beautiful nature and wildlife that we boast of and the people that primarily facilitate the reason for the tourism income to come in.