The life of a ranger is no easy job. Not only do they have to contend with the possibility of an attack from a wild animal at any moment, they are also first in the firing line against poachers – some of whom they may have known from their village and and grown up with as children.
You might expect that a ranger chooses to become a ranger, but sometimes it’s the job that chooses them. As the stories below show, these rangers are no ordinary people…
Meet Samak, 45. For over 20 years Samak cut down forests as part of his job in Myanmar’s logging industry. “I didn’t spare much thought on tearing down a tree or clear-cutting a forest,” Samak says. “A logging truck would be running and dragging away the small logs, churning out and spreading clouds of dust all over.”
The life-changing moment only came after forest concessions were banned by the Thai government and he was persuaded to become a park ranger and guard the forest instead…
Out on patrol one day he saw a bamboo forest that was being clear-cut to supply raw materials for a toothpick factory. It was a world he didn’t want to be a part of any more.
But it wasn’t an easy transition. Many of the villagers continued to cut down trees illegally for their own consumption and livelihoods and this often put Samak in difficult situations.
He was patient though, and eventually the villagers came to acknowledge and share the problems facing the park.
Now when Samak goes on patrol he feels comforted. “Nature taught me to be humble and inspired me to start protecting the forest,” says Samak.
Meet Feng-En Liang, 54. Liang did not start off as ranger. In fact his main past-time was hunting in China’s Heilongjiang Province where he grew up – prime Amur tiger habitat.
Liang learned to hunt from a young age with his father and became one of the best hunters in his village. But in the 1990s, when the Chinese government enacted a law on wildlife conservation, Liang had to hand over his gun to the authorities and stop poaching. Ten years later, in 2004, a call from WWF-China changed his life.
“WWF-China wanted to recruit me as one of the rangers for patrolling and monitoring,” says Liang. “I felt it was so ridiculous for an old hunter to become a protector until they told me I was chosen for my hunting experience and knowledge of the mountain and wildlife.”
As Liang began working with WWF, his attitude towards saving animals changed. One day while patrolling, he accidently caught his foot in a steel trap. It was a painful experience and strengthened Liang’s his resolve to patrol even more, as he understood then how much animals caught in snares suffered.
“To save animals is to protect ourselves. For instance, without wild boar or other prey species, the tiger’s food chain will be broken. Without tigers, the natural selection of prey species will not work and the whole ecosystem will be broken,” says Liang.