Rangers, forest guards, watchers, game wardens, field enforcement officers… they serve under various titles and their work is vast, yet one thread unites them all. They are the unsung heroes of the conservation world. So what exactly does a ranger do?
WWF uses the term “ranger” to refer to any professional involved in the protection and management of national parks and natural areas. From China to Indonesia, rangers are employed in all thirteen of the tiger range countries. A ranger’s work is dynamic and covers six key areas; patrolling, monitoring wildlife, combating poaching, engaging local communities, managing fires and assisting with tourism.
CONDUCTING ANTI-POACHING PATROLS
Patrolling is one of the most crucial part of a ranger’s job. The length and type of patrol depends on the area but on average rangers patrol 10-15km a day. There are two types of patrols; daily patrols or long-range patrols.
Daily patrols are common in areas where there are more rangers and more ranger stations. Early morning is the peak time of animal activity and therefore rangers typically wake up at 4am for their first 2 – 3 hour patrol. They return to the station to record their findings in the duty register around 7am.
The structure of the rest of the day depends on the individual ranger; some prefer to stay out in the field until the early evening, carrying food with them, whereas others prefer to break up their afternoon patrols by returning to the station for lunch.
At around 4pm, all rangers return to discuss their wildlife sightings and other findings with the group and the Patrol Team Leader. There is one final 2 – 3 hour patrol in the evening.
LONG RANGE PATROL
Long range patrols occur in areas where there are few ranger stations, few rangers and large areas to cover. The rangers take large back packs, food and water supplies and patrol all day, sleeping in the forest at night. One ranger must always keep watch over the camp, so the rangers alternate sleeping.
The length of these patrols is on average 5-7 days but in some regions it can be much longer, especially during the monsoon season. The conditions make it too difficult to enter or leave the forest so the rangers will frequently opt to stay in, not wanting to leave wildlife unprotected.
Monitoring Wildlife and the Forest. © WWF
MONITORING WILDLIFE AND THE FOREST
Rangers are the eyes and ears of the forest, protecting wildlife and the landscape is the key purpose behind their patrolling. Rangers record sightings of the different species they see along with signs of an animal such as pugmarks (paw prints) or scat. They carry cameras to photograph their findings as well as equipment to record the GPS location.
In recent years, Spatial Monitoring And Reporting Tool (SMART) has been developed and is being rolled out across the world, including the tiger range countries. It is a new and improved tool for measuring, evaluating and improving the effectiveness of wildlife law enforcement patrols and site-based conservation activities. The software is playing an increasingly important role in rangers’ work.
If rangers have mobile phones, they use the SMART app to record information, photographs and location whilst patrolling. If not, they use a SMART booklet to manually record information and ensure they are noting key data. Rangers take all of the information they have gathered monthly to the park headquarter, where it is inputted into the SMART system. Reports can then be produced about wildlife species and their threats within the landscape.
Combating Wildlife Crime © WWF-Malaysia
COMBATING WILDLIFE CRIME
Whilst out on patrols, rangers are not just looking for signs of wildlife, but signs of illegal activity too. Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade are the most immediate threat to many species. Poaching isn’t just limited to animals either, illegal logging destroys habitat and biodiversity of the region.
Rangers will record the signs and location of illegal activity, as well as removing snares and traps that they find along their patrols. They take action against illegal activities in accordance with the national legislation but sadly in many countries, rangers are under-equipped to deal with poachers. As a result, many rangers have lost their lives in their efforts to protect the forest.
Engaging Local Communities © WWF-Thailand
ENGAGING LOCAL COMMUNITIES
A ranger’s work doesn’t stop with patrolling! Like all forms of conservation work, protecting wildlife and natural places ultimately comes down to people. It’s about building a future where people live in harmony and balance with nature.
An important aspect of a ranger’s job is visiting their local communities and engaging people with the array of biodiversity near by. The importance of conservation work is emphasised as well as how different activities in the forest can impact the village, both in the short and long term. Villagers are acutely aware of the goings-on within their own community and can be a good source of information about poachers and illegal hunting.
Managing Fires © WWF-Indonesia / Mast Irham
Both natural fires and man-made fires occur in the forest. Whilst some small scale fires can be beneficial; increasing the fertility of the soil and providing fresh food for ungulates (hoofed animals), on a larger scale the fires can become incredibly destructive. During dry season, a large proportion of a ranger’s time is spent combating fires.
Assisting with Tourism © naturepl.com / Tony Heald / WWF
ASSISTING WITH TOURISM
Rangers are involved in guiding tourists around national parks, often in vehicles, as their indepth knowledge of wildlife and behaviour is useful for species spotting. Rangers ensure that tourists are respectful towards the wildlife and environment and are abiding by the park rules.
They are not only involved directly with the tourists but also in designing tourist routes through the landscape.
It is clear that a ranger’s work is vast, and critical to ensuring a safe future for our natural areas. Yet rangers don’t always get the support they need. Many of these brave men and women not only work in dangerous and harsh conditions, they often do so with low pay, little or no support and inadequate equipment. Many rangers spend weeks, sometimes months away from their loved ones and some will not have access to electricity or clean drinking water whilst on patrol.
WWF has been working closely with governments and other NGO partners to train rangers and improve their working conditions. In 2013, the Ranger Federation of Asia (RFA) was established as a platform to connect rangers around the world.
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Without rangers, we wouldn’t have wild tigers.