By Kevin Heath
Badly paid, ill-equipped and under resourced the wildlife rangers of India are now operating in the most dangerous place on Earth to be a ranger. A new survey released today says that so far in 2014 there has been 24 deaths of rangers and in the last 3 years 72 forest rangers have been killed either by poachers or wild animals
The revelation comes just a few days after the Union Environment and Forests Minister Prakash Javadekar said that India may consider offering life insurance to wildlife rangers at Kaziranga National Park.
To put into perspective the scale of killings of foresters and wildlife rangers in India during 2012 there was 34 deaths of Indian rangers while the US which came second on the survey in that year saw 6 rangers killed on duty.
The survey by the International Ranger Federation also compared the number of ranger deaths in India during 2013 with other countries. India saw 14 rangers killed in 2013 compared to 9 in war-torn Congo and 9 in the Philippines. 7 Ugandan rangers were also killed in 2013 and Chad lost 6 rangers together with Kazakhstan.
2014 is turning out to be a particularly bloody year for ranger deaths as the war on poachers starts to pick up. Yet again India is bearing the brunt of ranger killings with 24 deaths so far this year. Kenya has seen 10 of its rangers killed, Thailand has experienced 6 ranger deaths and Tanzania three rangers.
Most of the rangers have been killed by poachers or wildlife. A number though died on duty following infection of disease or injuries such through vehicle accidents and forest fires.
Indian rangers regularly face large crowds unarmed and this places them at great risk. Rangers are regularly attacked or kidnapped by large numbers of illegal loggers after rare woods in the Indian forests. Many rangers in national parks and sanctuaries go without pay or supplies for months but still continue to go out on patrol to protect the animals.
The unarmed or poorly armed rangers can come up against well equipped professional poachers or militias and rebels making any conflict one-sided.
As one Indian wildlife ranger put it a couple of years ago during an interview ‘ by the time he’d cocked his 303 bolt action rifle he would have been shot 100 times by a poacher’s AK47 ‘
India is a booming economy, it has a funded space programme and one of the highest number of billionaires on the planet. It has the resources to ensure that wildlife rangers are paid, trained and equipped. The survey though clearly shows there is no political will to provide those rangers with the resources they need to do the job effectively and ….. safely.