A few weeks ago, the media was abuzz with the unfortunate news that a ranger and the rhino he was protecting were killed in a poaching incident at a Bela-Bela private game reserve. This coverage brought to light the reality of the dangers that rangers face daily, and the immense sacrifices that they make to protect a species on the brink of extinction.
In 2015, the Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism site published that at least 25 rangers had been killed between April and August. According to Oxpeckers’ Associate and Administrator of the Game Rangers Association of Africa (GRAA), Louise de Bruin; “Game rangers choose a life that is often in the remotest wilderness, where communication is minimal and resources are scarce, to dedicate themselves to Africa’s natural resources. Family life and luxuries are usually sacrificed in their efforts to protect a natural heritage that is fast depleting.”
She confirms that; “Africa’s rangers are under tremendous pressure. In South Africa, rangers are targeted by heavily armed rhino poaching syndicates. An average of 12 different poaching groups are active in the Kruger every day, according to the anti-poaching task team based in the national park.”
It is for this reason that Dr Larry Hansen and Miss Xiaoyang Yu founded the Rhino Conservation Awards four years ago; to honour those that put their lives on the line daily. Recognising the importance of the acknowledgment of this work, His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco serves as the Patron of the Awards.
This year, nominations have been received from across the African rhino range states, and the quality and emotive value of these selections illustrate the quality of the contribution from these individuals and organisations. While the rangers fight on the front lines of this war, much coordination and support is required, from fundraising to judicial support, research and awareness, many people and organisations are playing an integral role in rhino conservation.
The nominees have been informed, and excitement is building for the awards ceremony, which will be held on the 11th of July at Montecasino in Fourways. The founders and representatives from the event sponsor, ZEISS, will present the trophies to the winners at the ceremony. The Rhino Conservation Awards are hosted in collaboration with the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the GRAA.
“The role of an African game ranger today is far removed from what it once was. Previously, game rangers spent most of their time involved in conservation tasks and ecological management. While these duties are still required today, the anti-poaching war often consumes the majority of their time,” confirms De Bruin. “Throughout Africa, rangers are up against crime syndicates that equip poachers with dangerous weaponry used in modern warfare, such as hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades (RPG-7s) and AK47s – and most poachers are prepared to kill anyone who stands between them and high-value items such as rhino horn and ivory.”
Chris Galliers, GRAA Chairman, concludes that; “If the well-being of our rangers is not prioritised, the attrition rate of rangers may have disastrous consequences for Africa’s natural heritage.”
Rhino Conservation Award nominations were invited in the following categories: Best Field Ranger, Best Conservation Practitioner, Best Political and Judicial Support, Best Science Research and Technology, and Best Awareness, Education or Funding. The additional Special Youth category honours youngsters that have taken action against poaching.