Africa’s rangers are stretched to capacity and continue to see drastic cuts in resources and an increase in poaching due to the devastating economic impact of COVID-19. The Wildlife Ranger Challenge is a multi-million-dollar fundraising initiative in support of the thousands of men and women on the frontline of Africa’s Protected Areas in safeguarding the continent’s iconic wildlife for years to come.
Funds raised will cover the operating costs for at least 5,000 rangers, enabling them to provide for their families, protect communities and wildlife in some of the continent’s most vulnerable areas. Tusk, NATURAL STATE, Game Rangers Association of Africa, The Thin Green Line, For Rangers, and the International Ranger Federation have partnered with 60 conservation areas to launch the pan-African challenge.
To support, sign up to run or walk virtually in solidarity with Africa’s rangers this weekend, on the 18 September 2021.Find out more and to donate to the cause at WildlifeRangerChallenge.org.
The Wildlife Ranger Challenge was formed at the start of the COVID-19 global pandemic in 2020, following several conversations between Jonathan Baillie, a global leader in conservation biology, and Mark Scheinberg, a businessman and philanthropist with a keen interest in conservation and animal welfare. Mark was concerned with the devastating effect that the virus was having on the livelihoods of Wildlife Rangers throughout Africa and the animals they were responsible for protecting. After consulting with strategic partners, they created this exciting campaign and fundraising initiative – The Wildlife Ranger Challenge – to restore thousands of ranger jobs, support communities and protect wildlife. The Challenge is being coordinated by Tusk and NATURAL STATE in collaboration with leading Ranger Associations and an independent Steering Committee.
According to Kissama Foundation, Angola; “If it wasn’t for the WRC, we wouldn’t have been able to cover the salaries of most of the ranger force due to serious funding cuts related to the pandemic. The effort of many years could have been lost.”According to Honeyguide Foundation, Tanzania; “Covid struck and with it brought uncertainty and the risk of losing more than just our goals, but everything that has been invested in over the past four years. The Wildlife Ranger Challenge restored hope and helped the rangers to realize that they were not alone; that their fellow rangers throughout Africa were all experiencing the challenges.”
A continental-wide collapse of wildlife tourism causing a rise in poaching.
A survey, conducted by Tusk and NATURAL STATE with 60 field conservation organisations across 19 African countries, found that Wildlife Rangers see no relief in sight, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact Africa’s communities and wildlife. The pressures on Africa’s protected areas threaten to compromise decades of development and conservation success through:
The COVID-19 crisis has eliminated essential funding for wildlife protection that comes from tourism. In 2018, the global wildlife tourism economy generated over $100bn and provided nine million jobs, worldwide. But COVID-19 has resulted in an almost complete end to cross-border travel, severely affecting countries dependent on tourism revenue as a significant part of their GDP.
The tourism impact alone could lead to a USD 53-120bn hit to the continent’s GDP. The impact of the pandemic on revenue generation was so serious that nearly half of protected areas across Africa reported that they could only maintain basic operations for up to three months if the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 continued to be enforced. (The impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Africa’s Protected Areas Operations and Programmes – IUCN-WCPA Report.)
According to Frankfurt Zoological Society, North Luangwa, Zambia: “The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt in Nsumbu, particularly through the continued loss of tourism and the income derived which both directly and indirectly support rangers. This reduced tourism has impacted jobs and related livelihoods and provided a challenge in linking the value of nature with the value to human life.”
According to Rhino Ark, Aberdares National Park, Kenya: “Tourist revenue for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has dropped by 96%, triggering budget cuts to government [wildlife and] forest security programmes.”
The economic stresses of COVID-19 on communities, and reduced ranger presence, has resulted in an increase in poaching, but the threat is expected to increase further with ranger capacity remaining low and as international borders open. Such hardships place major additional pressures on protected areas as communities increase natural resource use to survive.
According to Conservation & Wildlife Fund, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe: “Once lockdown restrictions started easing, poachers leapt back into action – the number of traps and snares recovered increased by 8,000% between May and July 2020.”
Sergeant Nyaradzo Hoto, International Anti-Poaching Foundation, Zimbabwe says; “COVID-19 has presented unique challenges to our Akashinga Program. The pandemic has significantly impacted and continues to impact, our anti-poaching operations. There has been an alarming spike in the rate of ivory-related arrests made by our team over the last year. The poachers will not rest despite the pandemic so it is up to us to maintain operations. This is proving a challenge, but one we’re resolving well as a team. We stand strong in our commitment to patrol the vast wilderness areas we are entrusted with and protect those that can’t fend for themselves against poachers.”
Edwin Kinyanjui, Senior Wildlife Community Officer, Mount Kenya Trust, Kenya says; “In the past year, rangers have had to be more vigilant than ever and enhance surveillance while repeatedly putting their lives on the line. Illegal activity due to widespread loss of income is on the rise and while combating this activity, rangers are at risk of contracting COVID-19. Poaching methods are also increasingly becoming sophisticated and the justice system overstretched. We keep going because we understand that what we are fighting for is bigger than us.”
Tusk’s mission is to amplify the impact of progressive conservation initiatives across Africa. The charity has earned a reputation for providing a highly efficient solution for funding wildlife conservation programmes. Tusk partners with the most effective local organisations, investing in their in-depth knowledge and expertise. By supporting and nurturing their conservation programmes, it helps accelerate growth from an innovative idea to a scalable solution. More information available at Tusk.org
About NATURAL STATE:
The mission of NATURAL STATE is landscape restoration at scale. Through large-scale restoration projects, NATURAL STATE’s objective is to sequester and store carbon, secure biodiversity and make measurable advances towards the sustainable development goals. In addition to implementing large scale restoration projects, NATURAL STATE develops innovative technology and financial mechanisms to unlock private sector capital, thereby accelerating restoration efforts globally. More information available at NaturalState.org
About the Scheinberg Relief Fund:
The Scheinberg Relief Fund was established by businessman and philanthropist, Mark Scheinberg, together with his family, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its mission is to provide strategic, high impact relief for individuals and communities. As well as reducing the short-term impact of the virus, the Fund also seeks to build a legacy in the communities and initiatives that it gives to, by providing funding for projects that secure a longer-term impact. More information available at www.ScheinbergFund.org
About the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa:
Founded in 1970, the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa is a non-profit organization which is the oldest, largest, and most representative ranger association in Africa. More information available at GameRanger.org
Photo Credits : Marcus Westburg & Peter Chadwick