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The ranger profession around the world is male dominated. A survey of public-sector rangers across 28 countries last year found that just 7.5% of respondents were female and only half of the female rangers felt that their efforts were being fairly rewarded. It’s clear that governments and civil society have a long way to go to reach equity in this field, but there are some glimmers of hope.
Qiu Shi’s team is unique in that they are China’s only all-women patrol team. They play a crucial role in helping double tiger numbers. Join them on a day in their life…
February, 2019. Dongning Forestry Bureau, Heilongjiang Province. This is tiger range territory, deep in the mountains of Northeast China. At first light, six rangers set out on patrol, their breath fogging in freezing air. They will trek for hours across unforgiving terrain, snow underfoot. Their job? To patrol, record data, remove deadly snares and set up camera traps.
My name is Qiu Shi. I am a ranger for the Dongning Forestry Bureau, and today I invite you to join our team of six on patrol. Wrap up, it’s very cold. Where we are is bordering Russia’s Primorsky region, and during the winter even daytime can reach below -20℃. Amur tigers and leopards live here, roaming between China and Russia. We are here to safeguard them and their forest home.
Most of the team here are second or third generation forestry people. Our fathers and grandfathers walked these forests before us. As a child I couldn’t understand why my father was always away, always busy. Some of my teammates feel the same way.
My colleague Bai Xue left the city and a well-paid job. She felt the need to return to this rural place. Her father before her was also forestry staff, and she says that it was only when she became a ranger that she began to understand why he would disappear for months on end to work in the field.
Today we are the new generation of forestry people protecting wildlife. For us, this is purpose with deep meaning.
We walk quietly in the snow, paying close attention for signs of footprints and snares. The snares – metal wire traps set to catch wildlife – are often well-covered. Over the years poachers have grown more cunning. We are continually learning too, but sometimes an accident is unavoidable.
“Don’t move! Let me check.” My colleague’s foot is trapped in a snare. We manage to untie her.
“Be careful next time. It’s lucky we are here, if you were an animal you would be dead.”
In this unforgiving wilderness with steep mountains and dangerous animals around, even the most simple tasks are difficult. Not long ago one of my peers encountered a wild boar and suffered a bad wound to the thigh. He needed a number of stitches, but fortunately he is recovering.
After three hours of walking we arrive in Tubaogou. My colleague, Li Gang, points toward a steep mountainside, “ok, team here we are. Just up there”. She leads us to begin the climb toward three infrared camera traps in need of fresh batteries and new data cards. Snow makes an already tricky climb even more challenging. We make steady progress; it’s important we don’t miss a single camera trap.
“I’ll go first and pull you up,” Zhang Xin says.
One more hour passes before we finally reach the cameras and do what we need to do. Afterward, we pause for a quiet moment, taking in the beautiful, silver-brown landscape of Tubaogou before us. Have you hear of this place? This is the home of the Amur tigers and leopards.
We eat a quick lunch of cold bread prepared that morning and move on, chatting about our families, neighbours and life at home to keep us from feeling tired.
After half an hour or so Wu Tong calls out, “come and see – a string of footprints!” Everyone hurries forward and gathers around the pug marks in the snow. Xu Chunmei takes out a tape measure to record the diameter of the prints.
“Leopard,” she says, “searching for food.”
“Take some photos, record it,” she adds, taking out the patrol record. I input the coordinates whilst others take out pens, paper and a camera.
These moments are the highlights of our days; every trace of a wild animal is a thrill. It may be unforgiving, but when we see roe deer walking among the trees, this landscape feels like a fairy tale.
We march onward, chatting excitedly and singing with new spirit. In quiet moments, bird song and the occasional calls of wild animals keep us company.
As light falls we head down the mountain toward home. One by one, we help each other down the slippery slope before reaching the old, right-hand drive car. Shabby and leaking, our feet are freezing and faces red as we bundle into its seats. It has been a long day, but everyone is smiling.
SAFEGUARDING NATURE FOR GENERATIONS TO COME
Our fathers dedicated their youth to these mountains. They loved nature and animals, and they were not afraid of hardship or fatigue. Many people born in the mountains yearn for urban life, but we have a love of nature, and we have inherited the spirit of our fathers. Now we are the protectors of wildlife for the young generation.
This article is written by Kassia Wordley, Digital Communications, for WWF International’s Tigers Alive Initiative