By Damien Mander
The world is losing a war. We will lose this war unless we can find a way to do things differently in conservation - To stop shifting the furniture around with an old, tired approach, expecting a different outcome.
Can we depend on the cliché of ‘winning the hearts and minds’ in order to save the world’s wildlife? This concept, which so easily rolls off the tongue, is actually demonstrated in very few places. Some of Namibia’s areas are often noted as working models, but Namibia has a total human population of just 1.7 million; one of the least densely populated countries in the world. The potential for this model to be widely replicated is extremely limited.
UN projections are that Africa's human population will double to 2 billion by 2040. I have little confidence that we can convince the hearts and minds of a continent with a common mindset of immediacy, that the long-term preservation of wildlife is more beneficial than food on the table tonight. Couple this with a lack of real political will across the world to save wildlife and we have a recipe for extreme challenge.
There is a group of people in this world who receive very little recognition. They venture out each day in the face of danger and defend our natural world from those who aim to destroy it. They receive the most minimum of salaries and often witness their colleagues killed or seriously injured – not as often from poachers as from the very animals they defend. All other wildlife organisations, conservation or commercial, fall back on this first and last line of defence. The people I refer to are wildlife rangers.
Where the difficulty in protecting the environment has increased, the level of training and support for rangers is decreasing. As en equation, that does not add up. Rangers must be given the capacity to hold on to what we have left, while the global community figures out what the long-term answers are – or nature figures this out for us. I know this is not the solution, but it is part of a solution. This must fit hand-in-hand with community upliftment, policy change and a shift in global awareness and support – but first, the hemorrhaging must be stopped.
IAPF recently led the scoping of 2 new qualifications under the South Africa Qualifications Authority: Anti-Poaching Ranger and Anti-Poaching Manager. These qualifications will serve an international community of rangers and provide the industry with a formalized career path, which has a focus on the necessary skills required to defend high target species from poachers. This is only one part of the solution however.
Many other answers sit within military warehouses around the world collecting dust. The conservation industry struggles along, trying to replicate technology that was superseded decades ago. The right budgets, training, technology and systems can protect what remains – if only it could be accessed. I don’t love the drones that patrol the skies, the defence budgets we crave, or the high level support we seek. I only love what these things can do for our common objectives. Well-prepared, trained and equipped rangers are not only more of a discouragement to poachers, but they are able to neutralise a situation more effectively, potentially saving human life as well as wildlife.
With this message I’m not asking for you to consider whether or not rangers should be trained, equipped and supported to the levels required, I’m asking you if you will accept the outcome if we do not follow this path.
Rangers didn’t sign up to protect dotted lines on a map or resources in the ground. An economic inheritance is inconsequential when weighed against environment heritage. These rangers signed up to protect that future - The wellbeing of the heart and lungs of this planet. They deserve our support.
Damian Mander [is\ the CEO of IAPF (International Anti-Poaching Foundation.