It’s an important day today – I am very proud to be sharing my birthday with the hard working, passionate and dedicated rangers who are protecting wildlife around the world, on World Ranger Day.
On this special day, I will be thinking of these frontline staff in protected areas around the world – wildlife wardens, forest guards, foresters, scouts and watchers – going out on patrol and keeping a watchful eye over these protected areas and the wildlife within them. The survival of highly threatened species such as the tiger absolutely depends on these rangers.
Over the last couple of years, I have met with rangers in Nepal and India, and for someone working to help improve conditions for wildlife these brief encounters are so inspiring. Those I have met are very humble and unassuming, but with strong spirit and resolve. They seemed to appreciate our interest and attention, as at times they must feel that they are invisible. They are working away from their families, living in very basic conditions, carrying out their daily patrols, where they may face poachers as well as potentially dangerous wildlife.
In India, I met a tall, thin forest watcher who had been out on patrol and was attacked by a sloth bear. He showed me the back of one leg which was badly scarred. He had a very lucky escape, and 15 years on he was still going out on patrol and living side by side with wildlife. I have also seen that they have very little – basic food, bed and clothing – and just a walkie-talkie which connects them in a very limited way to their immediate neighbours – other rangers in neighbouring ranger huts.
Many rangers do not have the support and recognition they deserve. In 2012 we released data relating to 135 critical tiger sites showing that 64% of rangers were inadequately equipped and 66% inadequately trained. In 2015, has this situation changed? We will soon be releasing a report which will tell us more about how rangers perceive their work and working conditions, and the challenges faced. This will be used to help raise awareness of these and to work towards improving this situation.
Our ranger trainer – Rohit Singh – told me that many young people do not see being a ranger as a good way to make a living, and this needs to change rapidly, as rangers are getting older and not being replaced by the younger generation. We urgently need to inspire the younger generation, and reward them appropriately if they choose to become a ranger.
In Asia – over the next few years – we are focused with others on significantly raising the profile of rangers in the region and improving their working conditions and capabilities. Actions focus on raising awareness of the importance of rangers, the need for increased professionalism, development and promotion of ranger standards and welfare, and strengthening of the Ranger Federation of Asia.
One year ago today – on World Ranger Day – in response to the urgent poaching crisis facing Asia and Africa, the International Ranger Federation (IRF), Ranger Federation of Asia (RFA), PAMS Foundation and WWF announced a joint initiative to work together to improve ranger standards and welfare across Asia.
It is crucial that as well as improving conditions for wildlife, we do what we can to help improve conditions for these guardians of wildlife, as without them, I believe that many of these places would be strangely silent places.
This evening I will raise a glass “to the rangers”!