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On World Ranger Day, as part of its action towards Zero Tiger Poaching, WWF is launching a global sign of support and appreciation to the rangers working in 12 tiger landscapes where it directly supports tiger conservation.
According to the Thin Green Line Foundation, 1,000 rangers have lost their lives in the last ten years. This means every four days a wildlife protection ranger is killed in the line of duty. The International Ranger Foundation reports that in the last 12 months, at least 60 rangers have died in the line of duty; over half were homicides. Many of the rangers were working on the frontline against tiger poaching.
“Rangers are critical in achieving Zero Poaching,” said Mike Baltzer, Leader of WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative. “Yet they are not always fully appreciated for their work. Through the Cards4Tigers action, we aim to provide an easy way for people all across the world to show their support to the rangers. We intend to use the cards to show the government leaders that the world thinks the rangers need more help and resources to save wild tigers.”
Sometimes called forest guards, park wardens and field enforcement officers, depending on the country, these rangers work tirelessly, under harsh conditions on the frontlines to keep wild tigers safe. They are among the lowest paid of all government employees. In many places, they are not paid sometimes for months on end. The vast majority of rangers in tiger reserves lives away from their families and may not see them for days or even weeks. They walk the forests and hills in all weather – rain, shine or in snowy conditions. Rangers too have been wounded from poachers’ snares. They get very little compensation for injuries sustained in the line of duty. Most rangers working in tiger reserves have no life insurance.
“Without these dedicated frontliners working hard to stem out poaching, tiger range countries cannot hope to achieve the TX2 goal of doubling wild tiger numbers by 2022,” said Craig Bruce, WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative protection expert. “The governments must invest in the well-being of rangers and ensure they are fully equipped to fight ruthless armed poachers. Too many lives have been lost needlessly.”
Rangers also face a variety of risks, including deaths. There are cases of rangers killed or attacked by wild tigers. But the leading cause of death or injury is not from tigers; it is from the armed poacher. Often ill-equipped and unarmed, rangers are the first line of defence as the poaching crisis escalates and wildlife crime spreads its tentacles. Wildlife poaching has become highly organized with armed criminal gangs. Receiving death threats is common and while the rangers’ families fear for their lives, they in turn fear for their families’ safety.
Most rangers work in protected areas set up to protect tigers and other wildlife species and habitats. A survey undertaken by WWF in April showed that many of these protected areas do not have the resources and the capacity to effectively protect tigers. In the survey, staff and WWF field personnel from 41 of 63 protected areas, or 65%, felt there were not enough staff to protect those areas and achieve Zero Poaching. One example is Malaysia’s Royal Belum State Park, critical for the survival of the Malayan tiger and where considerable poaching activity has been documented. Although occupying an area of over 1,000km2, the park only has 17 enforcement staff. In contrast, protected areas such as Kaziranga Tiger Reserve in India, with approximately 800 enforcement staff for about 860km2, have been able to stem poaching activity.
In Nepal, 2011 was celebrated as a Zero Poaching year for rhinos, which was largely attributed to the increase of range posts across several protected areas from 7 to 51. This has also significantly contributed to the increase in wild tiger population in the country’s largest park, Bardia National Park, as reported by the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation two days ago on Global Tiger Day.
In December 2011, WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative gave awards to several ranger teams and protected area staff in recognition of their excellent work on the ground against poaching of tiger, prey and other illegal activities.