Rangers in the Line of Fire

David Peddie
August 2017

It was recently announced that three rangers in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had been killed in an ambush by the Mai Mai Militia. A fourth is missing.

These were committed and brave men asked to do a job that is, today, particularly dangerous. Eight Virunga Rangers have been murdered in the “line of duty” in 2017, and 160 in the last 20 years. We owe them our respect, admiration and gratitude for their commitment and sacrifice. We owe their families our condolences and long-term support.

It is also essential that we understand that Game Rangers do not join their respective organisations to be soldiers, they join as conservationists. Yes, sometimes armed protection of the wilderness and wildlife is part of the job, but the increasing militarisation of the African Ranger Corp is a sad indictment of the failure of many of our conservation policies. We will not stop the poaching or the loss of wildlife land through the barrel of a gun - anyone with experience of guerrilla warfare, or criminal syndication, knows that. The frontline service of these men and women is an essential part of the strategy, but it must not be the singular approach, nor seen as a long term solution.

A number of issues stand out from the reports emanating from this tragic incident. The first is, obviously, the growing violence of the poaching and illegal trafficking of wildlife. The second is that the murdered men had families - families with eight, five and four children. Behind the terrible sadness of the loss of a husband and father, that statistic highlights Africa’s singular most critical conservation problem - the fact that its human population is set to double in the next 25 odd years.

The third issue stems from the statements that “tourism activities remain unaffected”. Really? That can only be because there are other men and women willing to go out there and protect the area, the wildlife and the tourists who want to see the gorillas, chimps and elephant - in safety. Well, it is now time for all those involved in the wildlife-based tourism industry - and the tourist themselves - to step up and contribute to the solutions to the problems that beset the very resources that their industry - and their pleasure - is totally dependent on. Not that many are not already doing so, but it is what both the primary target of those contributions and efforts are, and how they are coordinated, that is increasingly critical. 

Contributing does not only mean employing a few people from the local community to work in a luxury lodge or making a gesture of a books and pens to school children. It means tourism and conservation stakeholders collaborating and cooperating to contribute meaningfully to the education and socio-economic development of those rural communities living around National Parks like Virunga. It means helping them develop land use options that provide food security without conflict with wildlife. Most importantly, it means giving them a stake in the benefits and profits derived from conservation and tourism within, and in the surrounding areas of, those Parks.

Without that, those communities will take the land, because if the women of rural Africa are not empowered and continue to each have five children, the “plough and the cow” will replace the forest and the wildlife.

The Rangers must not die in vain.

Curriculum Vitae                                                   Conservation    Community    Commerce    Culture                                      © David Peddie 2017