On a dark Mozambique night just over a year ago, sleeping villagers were brutally attacked in their homes. It was coordinated, targeted violence against men who work to stop the poaching of some of the planet’s few remaining rhinos. In the past, rhinos numbered in the millions and lived across vast stretches of Asia and Africa. But today a rhino is killed ever eight hours, and estimates indicate there are a mere 30,000 in the wild.
Family members also were victims as assailants looted homes, destroying personal property and equipment essential for anti-poaching work - donated bikes, cell phones and radios. The vicious assault left one man with critical injuries after he was abducted, tortured and dumped roadside. This is just one story among many of the dangers park rangers face in their critical work to save Earth’s endangered and threatened wildlife and other biodiversity.
Today, serving as a ranger in a park, preserve or sanctuary is among the most challenging jobs in the world. In the last ten years, hundreds of rangers have been killed in the line of duty. Some have lost their lives in tribal or boundary disputes, and at the hands of illegal loggers, terrorists and poachers. In many places, the dangerous employment is often poorly compensated, with rangers working away from their homes and family for long periods of time.
Even in the United States, there are many risks that rangers face. As NPR reported, U.S. rangers cover wide spaces and remote locales, often with little backup. As the law enforcement for public lands, park rangers deal with varied crimes from sexual assaults and stabbings to weapons and drugs scenarios (meth labs to marijuana growing on public lands).
One ranger noted that the issues of the broader society are reflected in our supposed protected wild spaces. That includes, globally, a dramatic increase in wildlife and plant trafficking, illicit trade valued at an estimated $70 billion to $213 billion annually. So as long as this rape of the planet remains at crisis levels for too many species - threatening extinction of bears, elephants, tigers, rhinos and a multitude of other wildlife in too many parts of the world - rangers will continue to be threatened by the often well-organized and well-armed criminals and rebel groups behind this grim business.
Please give pause for the brave men and women who protect our wild creatures and wild spaces. As well, do what you can to support these rangers and those families who have lost their loved ones in the line of service - every three days, a park ranger loses his life in the line of duty. Organizations including the Thin Green Line Foundation and the International Ranger Federation offer support to the tens of thousands of rangers working in parks globally and build awareness of their valuable contributions.
And in Mozambique, last year’s brutal attack on those holding the thin green line to protect wild rhino did not go unchallenged. The International Anti-Poaching Foundation immediately launched a campaign to assist the rangers. IAPF operates on the front lines of the world wildlife wars to protect some of the most endangered animals, including the rhino, by using military principles in training rangers to be the first and last line of defense for nature.
Working with the governments of South Africa and Mozambique, IAPF’s efforts along the South Africa-Mozambique border of, Kruger National Park, home to 40 percent of the world’s remaining rhino, have reduced losses dramatically, and arrests of poachers are up. At the same time, an additional 130,000 acres in Mozambique have been protected. Too, for the first time since rhino were declared extinct in Mozambique in 2013, a resident population of approximately 25 rhinos has re-established itself in the country.
Little wonder poachers are hopping mad. Keep up the good effort, rangers!
A Senior Fellow with CAPS, Maria Fotopoulos writes from Los Angeles about the connection between human overpopulation, wildlife loss and the environment. Contact her @TurboDog50.