Under Fire, World's Park Rangers Seek Protection

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Bad governance also plays its part, he says. To be effective, game rangers need motivation, equipment, training, and discipline. Where these are lacking, and where there is not the right government commitment to parks, the conservation effort soon collapses. Corruption, poaching and other criminal activities quickly set in, and often the struggling rangers find themselves up against well-equipped and well-trained bandits.

Samson Essam, who is from Cameroon and represents Central Africa on the GRAA, says lack of commitment by government is a big problem. Cameroon for instance has a law requiring that rangers undergo security training, but nothing has yet been done about this.

David Zeller, a South African ranger who was elected president of the International Ranger Federation at its congress in Australia, says South Africa is not badly off compared with others on the continent where it is safer for rangers to look on unarmed as rebel forces move through reserves, shooting animals for "bush meat."

But South Africa. the host of next week's World Parks Congress, is not free of trouble. Particularly in places along the coast, rangers have been caught up in police shoot-outs with poachers of abalone, prawn, mussel, and oyster. In one incident two years ago, a warden was killed.

Commercial Poachers

Most of South Africa's game parks have poor communities living on their edges, and, Zeller says, rangers frequently must contend with "subsistence poachers." But they can cope with that, he says. It is the commercial poachers who are the real menace. They are well-equipped and dangerous and rangers need training and resources to take them on.

In South Africa, rangers can call in the country's security forces for assistance. Some other African countries don't have this support. There, poorly trained, unarmed rangers have to fend for themselves. Some do not even get paid for lengthy periods. "It gives us, the brotherhood of rangers, great pride that they nevertheless keep doing their duty of protecting nature as best they can," says Zeller.

Attacks on rangers are by no means unique to Africa.

Back at their congress in Australia, Dharanidhar Boro, a ranger in the Kaziranga National Park in India, described how he had been forced to return fire at poachers hunting the endangered one-horned rhinoceros. Two men were killed in the shoot-out.

A cursory list of incidents provided by Rick Smith, outgoing president of the International Ranger Federation, shows South America is another region that is seriously affected. It mentions Bolivia where a group called Sin Tierra (without land) is invading protected areas and threatening rangers. And in Venezuela a ranger was shot last year while on patrol.

On the Galápagos Islands off Ecuador, rangers have been up against shark fishermen who poach in the new marine reserve, often cutting off the sharks' fins before throwing them back in the water to die. Shark poachers have attacked rangers by burning down a research institute and two of their homes.

Shark fishermen also burned down park buildings on Costa Rica's Cocos Island, a World Heritage site.

Arizona Border Battle

The United States has also had problems. Particularly in parks along Arizona's border with Mexico's Sonora state, rangers are joined in battle against drug smugglers and illegal immigrants.

Park rangers at Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument wear camouflage and carry assault rifles. There, in August last year, a park ranger was killed while helping Border Patrol agents catch two men Mexican officials suspected were involved in drug-related murders.

Peter Shadie, IUCN's executive officer for the World Parks Congress, hopes that by getting insights from "those who work at the coal face of protected areas," it will be possible to "develop generic competencies for rangers around the world."

The congress, he says, will seek solutions for the root causes of violence and conflict affecting protected areas. It will encourage measures and action to allow rangers to work safely in managing parks.

Juan Carlos Gambarotta, vice president of the International Rangers Federation, says he is delighted that rangers will be properly represented for the first time at the World Parks Congress. "We'll make sure that there are representatives from all the regions," he says.

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