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On the front line in Bardia National Park

 

Ramesh Thapa has been a park ranger for 31 years, 22 of those he’s spent in Bardia National Park in Nepal. He’s seen a lot happen over that time, good and bad. As we celebrate World Ranger Day, I caught up with him to ask a few questions about his experiences.

Ranger Ramesh Thapa, NepalRanger Ramesh Thapa, Nepal © WWF UK

What was your motivation for becoming a ranger?

I was born in the picturesque hills of western Nepal, with a view of the majestic Annapurna mountain range. And I was raised in a family whose income came from agriculture. So I have always been intrigued by nature and wildlife. Sitting in the laps of my parents and grandparents and absorbing tall tales of great hunting expeditions made me want to see the wilderness and feel the thumping of the ground when a rhino runs. I realised that being a ranger could take me to where I so longed to be.

What’s the best thing about being a ranger?

My favourite thing about being a ranger is spending my days working in a place where people from all over the world come to enjoy their holidays. I get to preserve the glorious creations of nature, and delight in the sight of many colourful butterflies sailing and skittering in mid-air as I’m out on an anti-poaching patrol.

What is an average day in the life of a ranger?

An average day for a ranger starts very early. By dawn we’re already deep in the forests, patrolling for four to five hours to achieve one more day of zero poaching. Next there’s the business of issuing permits, helping buffer zone people manage their natural resources and making reports. And even smaller posts receive as many phone calls as a medium-sized office in a town.

Evening brings a chill down the spine as each ranger has to decide which area to patrol and which to leave aside. This patrol starts at about 3:30pm and ends at around 9pm. Then dinner awaits, along with hilarious jokes that are our only means of entertainment. We do have access to the radio, but we prefer to maintain silence so we can react to any noises. Before sleep – if there is reception – there may be time to make a phone call home.

The Ramesh familyThe Ramesh family

How long could they be away from their family?

For as long as the office doesn’t sanction their leave, it’s that simple. Some of the protected areas are so remote that physical proximity with the family can be taken as luxury even if they happen to be together once a year for the greatest festival. Generally, everyone has some number of days of leave that get annulled every year just because they were not approved and spent. But thank god for blessing me with a wonderful wife and adoring children who have not even shown an iota of displeasure in meeting the demands my job demands. I wonder, sometimes, how on earth she single handedly took care of my parents, our kids, the farm, when I was somewhere deep in the woods doing patrols and the regular duty. I wish I saw my kids grow, that’s the thing I miss of life the most.

How dangerous is it?

Being a ranger is very precarious. Hunters, poachers and trappers are always looking out for food, oil, hides, furs, skins, feathers, horns, ivory and all other products. Just a moment of negligence can result in the poaching of – in the case of tigers here – one of the few hundred animals that remain in the world. Poaching even one tiger means narrowing the chances of restoring them to their former glory. We don’t have the luxury of second chances.

How do you feel towards these beautiful animals?

Tigers are a living masterpiece of the environment they live in. If we see one, the protocol is to note the Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates, take a picture (if we have a camera and the sighting is long enough), register its sex, approximate age, size and any peculiar markings (scar, wound, limping, etc).

A young Sumatran tiger captured by camera trap in Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia © WWF-Indonesia / Tiger survey teamA young Sumatran tiger captured by camera trap in Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia © WWF-Indonesia / Tiger survey team

How important do you feel your job is?

Rangers are the cornerstone of any conservation plan for species, habitats, ecosystems or landscapes. We are mandated to make arrests or search a property if we feel suspicious. We are the investigating officers of wildlife crime, which is regarded as the third-biggest type of organised crime. We are responsible for stopping poaching in Nepal and preventing our country from being a place through which illegal items travel. We would surely not work long hours and stay away from our families so long if we didn’t feel that we are doing a special job.

How do the rangers feel towards the poachers?

Some rangers take it as a personal insult when there is a poaching incident. All rangers have a zero tolerance to poaching: our years of training and skill mean we have a professional attitude towards poachers and follow the letter and intent of the law when investigating about a poacher.

How do the funds from Whiskas and our donators help?

We’re grateful to Whiskas and to all the individual people who adopt a tiger to support our work. Thanks to Whiskas generous support in increasing our efficiency in patrolling and safeguarding the protected areas. The tents and bikes, and the solar sets used to power our bases and communication equipment, have been pivotal in increasing the quality and efficiency of our patrols. These items mean we can now cover a larger area more frequently, and don’t need to go to a base near a village just to get our equipment charged.

Since Nepal’s first national park – Chitwan – was established in 1973, rangers have spent every night with very poor visibility. Now we have solar-powered electricity and the solar-charged flash lights. They are small things but have a great impact. Such interventions by Whiskas have made a real difference in improving our capability to achieve the results that are expected of us.

Why not help support rangers like Ramesh by donating online or text TIGER to 70123 to donate a £1.

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