Nature

Ramp up to World Ranger Day

Multi-million-dollar fundraising initiative to support the men and women on the frontline of Africa’s protected areas

All photos credit - Marcus Westberg

Ahead of World Ranger Day on Saturday 31July 2021, more than 150 ranger teams across Africa are gearing up for the 2021 Wildlife Ranger Challenge, a multi-million-dollar fundraising initiative culminating on 18 September and supporting thousands of the men and women on the frontline of Africa’s protected areas.

Africa’s rangers are stretched to capacity and continue to see drastic cuts in resources and an increase in poaching due to the devastating economic impact of Covid-19. The Wildlife Ranger Challenge, a 21km race across the varied and challenging terrain of Africa’s Protected Areas, will support rangers to safeguard the continent’s iconic wildlife for years to come.

Find out more, donate to the cause and sign up to run in solidarity with Africa’s rangers on 18 September 2021 at wildliferangerchallenge.org

A new survey, conducted by Tusk and NATURAL STATE with 60 field conservation organisations across 19 African countries, found that Wildlife Rangers see no relief in sight, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact Africa’s communities and wildlife. The pressures on Africa’s protected areas threaten to compromise decades of development and conservation success through a continental-wide collapse of wildlife tourism. The Covid-19 crisis has eliminated essential funding for wildlife protection that comes from tourism.

Frankfurt Zoological Society, North Luangwa, Zambia: “The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt in Nsumbu, particularly through the continued loss of tourism and the income derived which both directly and indirectly support rangers. This reduced tourism has impacted jobs and related livelihoods and provided a challenge in linking the value of nature with the value to human life.”

Rhino Ark, Aberdares National Park, Kenya: “Tourist revenue for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has dropped by 96%, triggering budget cuts to government [wildlife and] forest security programmes.”

A rise in poaching. The economic stresses of Covid-19 on communities, and reduced ranger presence, has resulted in an increase in poaching, but the threat is expected to increase further with ranger capacity remaining low and as international borders open.

Conservation & Wildlife Fund, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe: “Once lockdown restrictions started easing, poachers leapt back into action - the number of traps and snares recovered increased by 8,000% between May and July 2020.”

Sergeant Nyaradzo Hoto, International Anti-Poaching Foundation, Zimbabwe; “COVID-19 has presented unique challenges to our Akashinga Program. The pandemic has significantly impacted and continues to impact, our anti-poaching operations. There has been an alarming spike in the rate of ivory-related arrests made by our team over the last year. The poachers will not rest despite the pandemic so it is up to us to maintain operations. This is proving a challenge, but one we’re resolving well as a team. We stand strong in our commitment to patrol the vast wilderness areas we are entrusted with and protect those that can’t fend for themselves against poachers.”

Edwin Kinyanjui, Senior Wildlife Community Officer, Mount Kenya Trust, Kenya; “In the past year, rangers have had to be more vigilant than ever and enhance surveillance while repeatedly putting their lives on the line. Illegal activity due to widespread loss of income is on the rise and while combating this activity, rangers are at risk of contracting COVID-19. Poaching methods are also increasingly becoming sophisticated and the justice system overstretched. We keep going because we understand that what we are fighting for is bigger than us.”

The challenge

Launching today, ahead of World Ranger Day on 31 July, the Wildlife Ranger Challenge will bring together more than 150 ranger teams, across 20 African countries to participate in a series of mental and physical challenges, culminating in the Wildlife Ranger Challenge 21km half marathon on 18 September. The challenge brings rangers’ vital work to the fore and provides a platform for their organisations to generate crucial funding.

A global campaign #ForWildlifeRangers will use the power of ranger voices, influencers and celebrities to issue a call to arms to the public to support Africa’s rangers by donating to the Ranger Fund or by taking part in the Wildlife Ranger Challenge in solidarity, wherever they are in the world. Today, Bear Grylls kicks off the public challenge with a film describing the need for urgent action. Throughout August, celebrities will encourage the public to ‘Train Like A Ranger’ with three weeks of mental and physical challenges. Throughout the campaign, WRC Ambassador and actor Alexander Dreymond will encourage the public to ‘Run with Rangers’ by signing up to join the global engagement to virtually run or walk alongside thousands of rangers on September 18th. The Greatest Marathon Runner of All Time had these words of support for all those taking part in the challenge:

Eliud Kipchoge, World Marathon Record Holder and Lewa Ambassador; “As I head to the Tokyo Olympics, I wish all the wildlife rangers across Africa the best of luck as they come together for the 2021 Wildlife Ranger Challenge. Together with the organisers Tusk and Natural State, we believe wildlife rangers are critical to a strong and sustainable future for wildlife and communities. I look forward to being back in a few weeks to support and participate in the challenge together with my Lewa brothers. Good Luck and remember, No Human is Limited.”

The Ranger Fund

Funds raised will cover the operating costs for at least 5,000 rangers, enabling them to provide for their families, protect communities and wildlife in some of the continent’s most vulnerable areas. Tusk, NATURAL STATE, Game Rangers Association of Africa, The Thin Green Line, For Rangers, and the International Ranger Federation have partnered with 60 conservation areas to launch the pan-African challenge. The Scheinberg Relief Fund, the Challenge’s founding donor, has generously committed another $1.35m of matching funds in support of rangers, on top of the $5m provided in 2020, with the goal of raising a total of $5m in 2021. In addition, for a second consecutive year, EJF Philanthropies contributed at Elephant Platinum Sponsorship level of $100,000.

Wildlife Ranger Challenge 2020

In 2020, the Wildlife Ranger Challenge was mobilised to tackle the crisis. $10m was raised to support over 9,000 rangers who collectively work to protect more than 4,000,000 km2 of conservation areas across Africa providing salaries, equipment and operating costs.

Kissama Foundation, Angola states; “If it wasn't for the WRC, we wouldn't have been able to cover the salaries of most of the ranger force due to serious funding cuts related to the pandemic. The effort of many years could have been lost.”

Honeyguide Foundation, Tanzania states; “Covid struck and with it brought uncertainty and the risk of losing more than just our goals, but everything that has been invested in over the past four years. The Wildlife Ranger Challenge restored hope and helped the rangers to realize that they were not alone; that their fellow rangers throughout Africa were all experiencing the challenges.”