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What is a hero?

“I think that we all do heroic things, but hero is not a noun, it’s a verb.” – Robert Downey Jr.

Iron Man himself said that. When you hear the word hero, who do you think of? 

Maybe superheroes like Iron Man or Wonder Woman, or those who protect or rescue people like firefighters or doctors and nurses, or maybe people in your everyday life – teachers who made an impact on you or a family member that you looked up to. We tend to think of someone acting for the greater good, above and beyond what everyone else around us is doing. Oftentimes our heroes put themselves at risk and put others first. They give us something to aspire to. 

Were any of the heroes you thought of in the conservation field? Many conservation-related jobs meet the definition. Today though, I want to talk about rangers. There are rangers around the world, in different climates, regions, and ecosystems, working to protect not only wildlife but also natural resources that humans need for survival. There are many titles for the admirable folks in these roles – Forest GuardiansGame RangersNational Park Service Law Enforcement RangerCommunity EcoguardsWildlife Scouts, and many other names. Sometimes the people in these jobs are indigenous peoples or from local communities. The people who know the landscape and wildlife can be knowledgeable stewards and guardians of their homes and resources and in some cases already are. For example, in Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia, 94% of the staff are local residents! 

There are just as many responsibilities as there are names for rangers. They may record wildlife observation data, conduct patrols, stop incidents of poaching, rescue and rehabilitate animals, work with communities to create solutions to human-wildlife conflicts, support ecotourism by teaching visitors about wildlife, remove snares intended to capture animals, promote sustainable farming, hunting and fishing practices, and much more. 

A few examples of success stories that we can thank rangers for: 

  • In Liwonde National Park in Malawi, 40,000 poaching snares were removed between 2015 – 2020. 
  • In Akagera National Park in Rwanda, the wildlife population was estimated to be around 5,000 but is now at 13,000 animals. 
  • Saiga are a critically endangered antelope species and populations have plummeted. In Stepnoi Reserve in Russia, there is a population of 7,000 of these animals without a poaching incident in four years due to a successful anti-poaching program. 
  • Kuriburi National Park in Thailand is home to around 230 Asian elephants. No elephants have been poached there since 2010 thanks to the hard work of dedicated rangers.  

Remember when I said that heroes do something for the greater good and often put themselves at risk? Being a ranger is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Life On the Front Line is a survey about the working conditions for rangers around the world. In 2019, 7,110 rangers in 28 different countries were surveyed. From 2009 – 2019, over 1,000 rangers died in the line of duty. Shockingly, almost half of these deaths were at the hands of armed poachers. I was also surprised to read that the average work week globally for rangers is 72 hours.  

What can we do to support rangers around the world? About half of rangers said that they didn’t have the basic equipment they need. 

Here are a few suggestions of organizations that work to fund anti-poaching patrols, provide much needed equipment, and create jobs that will benefit both humans and animals. 

The Game Rangers Association of Africa has donation options that will provide things like boots, first aid kits, additional training, and health insurance.  

The Red Panda Network has a Forest Guardians Program that takes a community-based approach and employs local people to monitor red panda habitats. 

Conservation South Luangwa funds anti-poaching patrols and has initiatives to engage the community in an active role. They also have the option to “adopt” one of their four detection dogs that sniff out ivory and other trafficked wildlife products. 

The Thin Green Line provides support for rangers in countries around the world. They also provide support to the families of fallen rangers. 
 
Seek out their stories. There are so many out there! Here are just a few. 

The Peacekeepers, (Zimbabwe) – YouTube video  
Conservation South Luangwa’s (Zambia) – Team biographies 
Indigenous Rangers. (Australia) – YouTube video 
Park Ranger Shelton Johnson, (United States) – YouTube video 
 
Celebrate World Ranger Day on July 31. Share them on social media. 
 
But you don’t have to become a ranger to act in ways that will create a better world for humans and animals! You just have to care and then do something about it. Use your canvas bags at the grocery store, organize a litter clean up in your community, start that campaign at school or work to gather and recycle old electronics, buy food grown and products made locally when you can skip the plastic straw … Because now that I’ve really thought about it, being a hero might not be as hard as it sounds. 

A true hero isn’t measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart.” – Zeus from Disney’s Hercules. 
 
References: 
Akagera. African Parks. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2021, from 
https://www.africanparks.org/the-parks/akagera 
 
Belecky, M., Singh, R., & Moreto, W. (2019). Life on the Frontline 2019: A global survey of the working conditions of rangers. WWF.  
 
Community conservation. African Wildlife Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2021, from https://www.awf.org/community/community-conservation.  
 
 Global conservation 2017 progress – new park rangers and community Ecoguards for Mirador National Park, Guatemala. News | Global Conservation. (2018, March 30). Retrieved November 12, 2021, from https://globalconservation.org/news/global-conservation-funds-new-park-rangers-and-community-ecoguar/.  
 
Liwonde. African Parks. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2021, from https://www.africanparks.org/the-parks/liwonde
 
Rangers – forces on the front-line of conservation. WWF. (2013, July 13). Retrieved November 19, 2021, from https://greatermekong.panda.org/our_solutions/landscape_conservation_in_the_greater_mekong_region/protected_areas/rangers/
 
Rangers-Unsung Heroes of Wildlife Conservation. UN Environment Programme. (2019, July 30). Retrieved November 11, 2021, from https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/rangers-unsung-heroes-wildlife-conservation
 
Stievater, B. (2018, June 12). Rangers of the Stepnoi Reserve. Wildlife Conservation Network. 
Retrieved November 18, 2021, from https://wildnet.org/the-rangers-of-stepnoi-reserve/. 

(Photo credit: Edward Selfe Photography)

Melissa King
Manager of Public Programs

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl