The work of exceptionally courageous game rangers comes under the spotlight at the 2020 Rhino Conservation Awards, writes Fred Kockott.
Asked by his family to quit his job following regular encounters with heavily armed guerrillas, a Ugandan field ranger reckons this is not an option.
Samuel Loware’s work in Kidepo Valley National Park – a wild frontier region bordering South Sudan – has seen him shortlisted as a finalist in the 2020 Rhino Conservation Awards, alongside 11 others.
This year’s awards coincide with World Ranger Day on 31 July. Organised by the Game Rangers Association of Africa, the awards comprise four categories: Best Field Ranger, Best Game Ranger, Best Conservation Practitioner and Best Conservation Supporter.
The awards “pay tribute to the exceptional courage of those who are fighting, often putting their own lives at risk, to give hope to our children and to enable the species under threat today to continue to contribute to the diversity of nature,” said Prince Albert II of Monaco, a patron of the Rhino Conservation Awards.
In Uganda’s Kidepo Valley, Loware has become something of a legend, according to the Guardian’s global environment editor, Jonathan Watts.
In a 2018 article, Watts said countless desperate people in neighbouring Sudan were taking their AK47s on raids across the border, where they terrorise villagers, hunt antelopes, zebra, buffaloes and other animals for meat, or kill elephants and ostriches for Chinese ivory and bone-marrow smugglers.
Watts describes how Loware was once shot alongside a local villager while tracking a poacher trying to flee back over the border with contraband meat.
As the two pursuers approached a gully, the poacher opened fire from behind a tree. A shot passed through the chest of the villager, killing him instantly, and into the body of Loware. He had to be driven several hours to a hospital where a surgeon cut out the bullet, lodged four inches down his back.
On another mission, Loware saw his commander killed in a gun battle with Sudanese poachers. But such incidents have not deterred Loware, said Watts. Unlike Sundanese poachers – mostly teenagers who have spent their lives in war zones with no education or concept of conservation – Loware was raised to believe in wildlife protection as a necessity and an opportunity.
He continues to play a key role in human-wildlife conflict resolution, showing “even the most hostile communities the value of parks and the wildlife in them”, said Game Rangers Association of Africa chief executive, Andrew Campbell.
Up against Loware in the field ranger category are Julius Kaputo, who works in the Lower Zambezi National Park, and Losas Lenamunyi, who works for the Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya.
The shortlisted finalists in the Best Game Ranger category are Albert Smith and Don English, who work for SANParks in the Kruger National Park, and Benson Kanyembo, a law enforcement advisor to Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife.
Kanyebo leads a team of scouts in the South Luangwa National Park. Last year they were responsible for the arrest of 76 poachers and illegal traders and the confiscation of 400kg of ivory. Kanyebo also leads anti-snaring programmes without which nearly all wildlife in the park would have declined severely, reads his citation.
More than 600 kilometres south, in the vast Zambezi Valley of Zimbabwe, Lynne Taylor’s work in supporting rangers has seen her shortlisted as a finalist in the Best Conservation Supporter category.
Taylor directs the Tashinga Initiative Trust, which provides essential support to rangers, often at great risk. This has included boosting the supplies of anti-poaching equipment, installing solar powered water pumps, and radio and satellite links so rangers can respond quickly.
Taylor has also introduced vegetable gardens and supported the education of ranger’s children, “instilling a sense of pride and common purpose among the ranger community”, reads her citation.
Other finalists in the Best Conservation Supporter category are SANParks’ Environmental Crime and Corporate Investigations Unit, for combating organised wildlife crime syndicates, and the WWF-SA Wildlife Programme for conserving rhinos and other endangered wildlife.
In the Best Conservation Practitioner category, South Africa’s Green Scorpions are in the running for an award alongside Marula South Rangers in the Kruger National Park, and SANParks’s Kruger air-wing.
The Green Scorpions have been particularly effective in the Eastern Cape, focusing on illegal hunting, whether by dogs or crime syndicates, and on smuggling of plants, especially cycads and succulents.
“Their efforts saw the jailing of a main cycad syndicate leader in 2019 for 18 years and other cycad smugglers receiving prison sentences too. The illegal cycad trade has now almost completely stopped in the province,” said Campbell.
“Each organisation and individual that has been shortlisted has contributed in some way to a conservation success story, allowing species to flourish in their natural environments,” said Campbell.
The winners of each category will be announced on World Ranger Day.
- Banner image courtesy of Chris Galliers
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