Five rangers die in grim month for wildlife protectors

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/27/eight-rangers-killed-in-grim-week-for-wildlife-protectors

Rangers lost their lives in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and India

Photo of the burial of Kasereka Matendere Mwana Zaire. A ranger for Virunga National Park who drowned after his boat capsized in Lake Edward. Two others were killed as well.
The burial of Kasereka Matendere Mwana Zaire, a ranger for Virunga National Park who drowned after his boat capsized. Two others were killed as well. Photograph: Ranger Bantu (IDPE)

Five wildlife rangers and three other men working in wildlife protection have lost their lives in four separate countries in the past month, highlighting the numerous hazards rangers and their colleagues face in protecting the world’s wild lands and species.

“It’s a tough week when we lose eight of our ranger family; some to poachers’ bullets and some to the other dangers that come with the territory,” said Sean Willmore, founder and director of the Thin Green Line Foundation, which supports widows and children of rangers killed in the line of duty.

“We are becoming accustomed to this sad reality. But we need the world community’s support to help provide training and equipment to prevent deaths and to support families left behind.”

On 17 February, a young ranger with the Kenyan Wildlife Service was shot dead by elephant poachers in Tsavo national park.

The ranger and a colleague were out on a de-snaring patrol when they came upon the tracks of known elephant poachers. The poacher ambushed the pair, killing one – officials have not yet released his name.

The other ranger pursued the poachers and reportedly killed one of them.

These particular poachers have become well known in Tsavo, which has one of the largest populations of savannah elephants in the world. A week earlier, the same group had shot and wounded an elephant, but abandoned it when they realised community scouts were on their tail. The elephant eventually perished from its wounds. Park rangers removed the animal’s ivory and sent it to Nairobi to keep it out of the black market.

The slain ranger was in his twenties and leaves behind a young wife. He had only recently graduated from the Kenya Wildlife Service Field Training school in Manyani.

“The threats [to rangers] are escalating and with that there is a corresponding need for increased support, which in many cases does not materialise.” said Chris Galliers, the chair of the Game Rangers Association of Africa and the International Ranger Federation African representative.

He added that rangers in Africa are working under difficult conditions with “reduced capacity, fatigue, and possibly the need for additional skills.”

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“It creates a situation where cracks will begin to appear,” he noted.

Not all ranger fatalities are at the hands of poachers. Three rangers also died last week in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when their speed boat capsized in Virunga national park.

According to chief park warden, Jean Pierre Jobogo Mirindi, nine rangers were patrolling Lake Edward when a heavy wind capsized the boat. Local fishermen rescued six of the rangers, but three of them drowned after foggy conditions complicated the rescue: Bwambale Nyamikenge, Katu Mumbere, and patrol chief, Kasereka Mwana Zaire.

Virunga national park is home to a quarter of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. But militias and political instability have also made it one of the most dangerous parks in the world for rangers: 150 rangers have been killed in the park during the last ten years.

On 24 January two men working for African Parks law enforcement team died in a helicopter crash in Central African Republic. The pilot of the helicopter was also killed. The pilot, Shaun Barendsen was from National Airways Corporation, while David Fine, head of law enforcement, and sous-lieutenant Mbenga-Nzongomblo Ponce Pilate, assistant law enforcement manager, were African Parks employees based in Chinko.

In a statement African Parks said: “The helicopter we had chartered in Chinko, Central African Republic, to assist with our law enforcement work, crashed killing all three on board. The helicopter crashed on approaching the landing strip and we are trying to gain a better understanding of the cause of the accident. We are devastated by this tragic news, for the enormous loss of three committed and passionate individuals, and for the loved ones they leave behind, to whom we send our heartfelt condolences.”

Finally, in India, a 28-year-old forest ranger passed out while trying to stamp down flames in Bandipur national park. Officials say Murigeppa Tammangol died from asphyxiation, burns and brain damage. Tammangol leaves behind a wife and a three-month-old baby.

The local press blamed the fires on “miscreants” from nearby communities. But Bandipur national park is also in the midst of a drought, with two years of unusually dry conditions.

Three other people were injured in the blaze and are recovering in the hospital.

The Thin Green Line estimates that around 100 rangers are killed in the line of duty every year – approximately two per week.

  • This article was amended on 1 March 2017. The original article stated that eight rangers were killed in a week, this was corrected to five rangers and three other people working for African Parks since the end of January.
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8 thoughts on “Five rangers die in grim month for wildlife protectors

  1. I was so glad to see this article; usually, we only hear it from the side of sympathy for the ‘poor poacher with a family to support’ as justification for all kinds of atrocities. People really have to make the choice, and I think they have already made it. Do we value the diversity of species on the planet, or just our own? I think it is just our own.

  2. The unmentionable issue in most of these articles and in the battle between poachers and ranchers is the fact of human overpopulation and greed. Greed is driving the killing of elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns. Greed is also driving the killing of gorillas for the witless wonders who want their heads or hands for souvenirs. Whole gorilla families are also killed to obtain an infant for foreign zoos. This is particularly sad for the mountain gorillas, because none of them have survived long-term as zoo inhabitants. So their whole families perish, and the babies will never grow old.

    A lot of the killing is for bushmeat. With high population density, agricultural land is insufficient and people look to wildlife for food. Some prefer it even when substitutes are available. One of the hardest things in dealing about this issue of poaching is that it is frequently cast as a contest between who is more important–people or animals. When that is the question, there is supposed to be only one answer. Give the wrong answer, and you are tagged as a misanthropist or racist.

    I feed so bad for the wild ones, here and in other countries. They are innocent victims of human greed, irresponsibility, and arrogance, all backed by religion and tradition.

    I hope the rangers remain steadfast and keep fighting. Until the poachers start paying with their own lives, they will continue to kill. And as long as people always come first, the fate of the animals is extremely uncertain.

  3. Now the poachers are killing animals in zoos. On Monday they killed a 5 year old rhino in Paris zoo. This is a new low even for these scums!
    I honestly I think it is the time for governments to get involved and fight the poachers the way they fight drug cartels.

  4. I now truly think troops from various countries need to be on the ground along with the wildlife rangers. A war is being fought and many advanced monitoring tools used in warfare should be used to gain the upper hand. It should be set up by the UN and coordinated by the countries sending in troops. I’m not talking about massive armies here; just a few good men as they say. And just as a bottom line, poachers need to be shot on sight.

    • I totally agree. A war is being fought for the last remaining animals everywhere, not just Africa but everywhere. It is ridiculous that the governments are not paying attention.

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