By Maria Fotopoulos
July 28, 2017
On a dark Mozambique night just over a year ago, sleeping villagers were brutally attacked in their homes. It was coordinated, targeted violence against men who work to stop the poaching of some of the planet’s remaining rhinos. In the past, rhinos numbered in the millions and lived across vast stretches of Asia and Africa, but today a rhino is killed ever eight hours, and estimates indicate a mere 30,000 now live.
Family members also were victims as assailants looted homes, destroying personal property and donated bikes, cell phones and radios, equipment essential for anti-poaching work. The vicious assault left one man with critical injuries after he was abducted, tortured and dumped roadside. This is just one story among many of the dangers park rangers face in their critical work to save Earth’s endangered and threatened wildlife and other biodiversity.
Today, serving as a ranger in a park, preserve or sanctuary is among the most challenging jobs in the world. In the last ten years, hundreds of rangers have been killed in the line of duty. Some have lost their lives in tribal or boundary disputes, and at the hands of illegal loggers, terrorists and poachers (last year, 42 percent of the 102 deaths). In many places, the dangerous employment is often poorly compensated, with rangers working away from their homes and family for long periods of time.
Even in the United States, NPR reported on rangering risks. U.S. rangers cover wide spaces and remote locales, often with little backup. As the law enforcement for public lands, park rangers deal with varied crimes from sexual assaults and stabbings to weapons and drugs scenarios (meth labs to marijuana growing on public lands).
One ranger noted that the issues of the broader society are reflected in our supposed protected wild spaces. That includes, globally, a dramatic increase in wildlife and plant trafficking, illicit trade valued at an estimated $70 to $213 billion annually. So as long as this rape of the planet remains at crisis levels for too many species – threatening extinction of bears, elephants, tigers, rhinos and a multitude of other species in too many parts of the world – rangers will continue to be threatened by the often well-organized and well-armed criminals and rebel groups behind this grim business.
On this the tenth World Ranger Day, July 31, please give pause for the brave men and women who protect our wild creatures and wild spaces. As well, do what you can to support these rangers and those families who have lost their loved ones in the line of service – every three days, a park ranger loses his life in the line of duty. Organizations including the Thin Green Line Foundation and the International Ranger Federation work directly to support the tens of thousands of rangers working in parks globally and to build awareness of their contributions.
And in Mozambique, last year’s brutal attack on those holding the thin green line to protect wild rhino did not go unchallenged. The International Anti-Poaching Foundation immediately launched a campaign to assist the rangers. IAPF operates on the front lines of the world wildlife wars to protect some of the most endangered animals, including the rhino, by using military principles in training rangers to be the first and last line of defense for nature.
Working with the governments of South Africa and Mozambique, IAPF’s efforts along the South Africa-Mozambique border of Kruger National Park, home to 40 percent of the world’s remaining rhino, have reduced losses dramatically and increased arrests of poachers. At the same time, an increase of protected wilderness areas in Mozambique by almost 130,000 acres has occurred. Too, for the first time since rhino were declared extinct in Mozambique in 2013, a resident population of approximately 25 rhinos has re-established itself in the country.
Little wonder poachers are hopping mad. Keep up the good effort, rangers!
A Senior Writing Fellow with Californians for Population Stabilization, Maria Fotopoulos writes about the connection between overpopulation and biodiversity loss. Contact her on FB @BetheChangeforAnimals and Twitter @TurboDog50.