Celebrating World Rangers’ Day
Dr Fulton Mangwanya
July 31 was set aside by the International Ranger Federation as World Ranger Day to raise public awareness about the contribution and sacrifice of rangers to conservation and to commemorate rangers who died or were injured in the line of duty.
Zimbabwe, represented by the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Ranger Day.
It is heartening to note that this year marks 14 years of celebration since the first event took place in 2007.
We, therefore, celebrate our past and present rangers for the immense sacrifices and contributions made in order to safeguard our most treasured asset-wildlife and the whole ecosystem.
Rangers, who are at the forefront of wildlife management and conservation, sacrifice their lives each day protecting the country’s natural resources.
In most cases they spend 21 days in the bush on extended patrol away from their loved ones looking after the country’s wildlife.
Needless to say that most of our wildlife is in Natural Region 5, where there are extreme weather conditions.
Their work exposes them to adverse environmental conditions such as heat, cold weather, floods, and illnesses such as malaria and sleeping sickness, not forgetting attacks from dangerous animals and armed poachers.
As I am writing we are in mourning after one of us was gored to death by a buffalo while on patrol. May his soul rest in peace. These are our conservation heroes.
This calling is for a special group of people who are dedicated to the cause because it is not everyone who can endure such conditions, day and night, for the betterment of conservation efforts.
This year’s celebrations are marred by the advent of the global pandemic, Covid-19, which has almost brought the whole world to a grinding halt in terms of business and our very normal way of life, since the beginning of 2020.
Conservation and resource protection work has not been spared as in some worst-case scenarios we have rangers and other support staff succumbing to the deadly virus the world over.
Be that as it may, conservation work, through the selfless sacrifices of rangers, has remained top among essential services which have to be maintained despite the risks and exposure to the virus.
We otherwise run the risk of allowing poachers to plunder valuable biodiversity resources.
It is against this backdrop that I salute the sacrifices made by our men and women in such challenging times.
It is saddening to note that some organised syndicates of poachers continue to terrorise and eliminate dedicated rangers in order to gain free access to poach valuable wildlife and other natural resources from protected areas.
While the whole world was still shocked at the shooting of 12 Rangers in the DRC’s Virunga National Park in 2020, yet another similar incident claimed the lives of six more rangers in April 2021 in the same park.
That on its own created a big conservation dent, not only to the DRC but the world over.
This is just, but one of the conspicuous incidents highlighting the dangers to which the vanguards to wildlife protection are exposed during the discharge of their duties.
In Zimbabwe, the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority suffered the loss of rangers’ lives emanating from attacks by poachers.
In 2020, two of our rangers were attacked and killed by poachers while they were on patrol in the mighty Kariba Dam.
Last week we lost a ranger to a buffalo attack in the Zambezi Valley.
In the past, several rangers succumbed to attacks by dangerous animals whilst performing their assigned duties.
At this juncture I would like to kindly ask you all to join me now in observing a minute of silence in memory of those who have lost their lives in the course of duty, not only here in Zimbabwe but the world at large.
In discharging its conservation mandate, Zimbabwe relies heavily on the field rangers.
Their commitment to duty has seen a significant decline in the decimation of the big game especially elephants which has gone down by 85 percent over the last three years.
This success is attributed to the conservation support from our distinguished conservation partners, stakeholders, security agents, co-operative local communities as well as collaborating neighbouring countries at the transboundary level.
It is pleasing to note that conservation work is slowly drawing us into a global village through several multi-lateral Environmental Agreements which promote the exchange of modern ideas and practices at a global scale in the management of both the natural and cultural heritage.
This is envisaged to promote the adoption of new technologies to further enhance our rangers’ capabilities to discharge their duties with a greater degree of precision.
The promotion of Private, Public, Community Partnerships (PPCPs) has opened channels for resource mobilisation to support conservation work and the welfare of rangers.
Initiatives are at an advanced stage to establish Community Auxiliary Rangers who would be operating outside the protected areas and collaborating with management teams and rangers in the protected areas.
Private wildlife farmers and Community Rangers through Community Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) continue to play a crucial role in the protection and preservation of the country’s wildlife heritage.
All these initiatives are aimed at supporting the good work being done by our rangers whom we are celebrating today.
Given the challenges and demands associated with the discharge of conservation duties by rangers, it is glaringly clear that this mandate needs concerted efforts from everyone who matters at the local, regional and international level in order to tip the scale in favour of sustainable conservation.
Without this collaboration, it may be difficult to train, equip, incentivise and motivate rangers to exhibit their fullest potential as stewards of this valuable heritage.
Ladies and gentlemen, despite some setbacks that we continue to encounter year in and year out in our work, let us join forces to celebrate and support our rangers for being there as the cornerstone of our wildlife management.
The successful protection and existence of our wildlife heritage is not by accident, but good management practices by the authority.
It is a fact that there has been a lot of good work and sacrifice that has gone into these achievement, as Zimbabwe has the second largest elephant population in the world and we have the fourth largest rhino population after South Africa, Namibia and Kenya.
Today we walk tall and share some conservation success stories because of these brave men and women, working tirelessly and selflessly to ensure that generations to come will enjoy this God given heritage.
To all our rangers let me express my gratitude to you all. I have incredible respect and admiration for each one of you for your dedication, courage and personal commitment and obsession with duty. Despite the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic, we are committed to ensuring that the working conditions of our rangers are prioritised.
In conclusion, I would like to urge all stakeholders to continue to support the good work of our rangers as they continue to be the torchbearers who lead the way for us in conserving our country’s natural and cultural heritage.
Dr Fulton Upenyu Mangwanya is the director general of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. He is a holder of a PhD in Political Science (UZ), MSc in International Relations (UZ) and BSc in Politics and Administration (UZ).