Recognising the role of rangers in conservation


Born Free’s Dr Nikki Tagg explains how we are supporting the rangers protecting wildlife in Chizarira National Park, Zimbabwe

A variety of approaches to wildlife conservation are applied in the field, but the one assumed to be the most effective, is the model of setting aside protected areas dedicated to untouched wildlife and natural habitats. These refuges are a crucial aspect of the conservation of many species, but they often lack resources and capacity, which means the rangers charged with protecting the parks face an impossible task.

As well as investing efforts into community-level conservation, Born Free also recognises the need to find solutions which address the legislative and enforcement elements of wildlife protection. This is why Born Free is supporting National Park Rescue which fund “direct-action operations to secure national parks and protect wildlife”, so that park management and rangers can do their jobs effectively. 

Their focus is on the ravaged Chizarira National Park in Zimbabwe, where black rhino were extirpated and elephant reduced to small skittish groups over the past decades, because of mismanagement and neglect. This area is critical for elephants, as it falls within the world’s largest transboundary conservation area, and supports more than half the world’s remaining wild elephants. It also comprises – within the same zone – Botswana, where an estimated 130,000 elephants have recently become at risk since the lifting of the trophy hunting ban.

Securing additional protected areas in this zone, to offer refuges and assure safe migration routes, could be crucial for the survival of the elephant in Africa.

National Park Rescue has reinstated the necessary park management infrastructure of Chizarira, and is training the park rangers. This empowers them to do their jobs, be proud of their roles and keep safe in the face of real dangerous adversity in the park they strive to protect. Only once a team of equipped, prepared and motivated park rangers is in place, can the real work begin. 

Born Free is also supporting National Park Rescue to roll out a micro-economy scheme, using a virtual currency called Sables. Rangers are rewarded for high performance and presented with Sables, which they can exchange for a huge range of products and services; all contributing to the welfare and development of themselves and their families. They can buy household items, opt for training, cover their medical fees, or claim help putting their children through education. Virtual currency is better than cash rewards because it cannot be used to buy alcohol or illegal goods, and cannot be used to fuel corruption or crime. 

Born Free is also supporting National Park Rescue’s community ration-supply scheme, through which rural communities living around the park grow, cultivate, breed and supply produce to feed park rangers. In the past, alarmingly, rangers were permitted to kill a quota of game species each year for sustenance. Supporting local communities to grow vegetables and keep livestock for the purpose of providing to park rangers helps everyone understand and adhere to the overall message of wildlife conservation in the park.