Africa’s rangers are stretched to capacity and continue to see drastic cuts in resources and an increase in poaching due to the devastating economic impact of COVID-19. The Wildlife Ranger Challenge is a multi-million-dollar fundraising initiative in support of the thousands of men and women on the frontline of Africa’s Protected Areas in safeguarding the continent’s iconic wildlife for years to come.
A survey, conducted by Tusk and NATURAL STATE with 60 field conservation organisations across 19 African countries, found that Wildlife Rangers see no relief in sight, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact Africa’s communities and wildlife. The pressures on Africa’s protected areas threaten to compromise decades of development and conservation success through:
A continental-wide collapse of wildlife tourism causing a rise in poaching.
The COVID-19 crisis has eliminated essential funding for wildlife protection that comes from tourism . In 2018, the global wildlife tourism economy generated over $100bn and provided nine million jobs, worldwide. But COVID-19 has resulted in an almost complete end to cross-border travel, severely affecting countries dependent on tourism revenue as a significant part of their GDP.
The tourism impact alone could lead to a USD 53-120bn (bit.ly/3EnqEev) hit to the continent’s GDP. The impact of the pandemic on revenue generation was so serious that nearly half of protected areas across Africa reported that they could only maintain basic operations for up to three months if the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 continued to be enforced. (Waithaka, 2020. The impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Africa’s Protected Areas Operations and Programmes. IUCN-WCPA Report)
According to Frankfurt Zoological Society, North Luangwa, Zambia: “The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt in Nsumbu, particularly through the continued loss of tourism and the income derived which both directly and indirectly support rangers. This reduced tourism has impacted jobs and related livelihoods and provided a challenge in linking the value of nature with the value to human life.”
According to Rhino Ark, Aberdares National Park, Kenya: “Tourist revenue for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has dropped by 96%, triggering budget cuts to government [wildlife and] forest security programmes.”
The economic stresses of COVID-19 on communities, and reduced ranger presence, has resulted in an increase in poaching, but the threat is expected to increase further with ranger capacity remaining low and as international borders open. Such hardships place major additional pressures on protected areas as communities increase natural resource use to survive.
According to Conservation & Wildlife Fund, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe: “Once lockdown restrictions started easing, poachers leapt back into action – the number of traps and snares recovered increased by 8,000% between May and July 2020.”
Sergeant Nyaradzo Hoto, International Anti-Poaching Foundation, Zimbabwe says; “COVID-19 has presented unique challenges to our Akashinga Program. The pandemic has significantly impacted and continues to impact, our anti-poaching operations. There has been an alarming spike in the rate of ivory-related arrests made by our team over the last year. The poachers will not rest despite the pandemic so it is up to us to maintain operations. This is proving a challenge, but one we’re resolving well as a team. We stand strong in our commitment to patrol the vast wilderness areas we are entrusted with and protect those that can’t fend for themselves against poachers.”
Edwin Kinyanjui, Senior Wildlife Community Officer, Mount Kenya Trust, Kenya says; “In the past year, rangers have had to be more vigilant than ever and enhance surveillance while repeatedly putting their lives on the line. Illegal activity due to widespread loss of income is on the rise and while combating this activity, rangers are at risk of contracting COVID-19. Poaching methods are also increasingly becoming sophisticated and the justice system overstretched. We keep going because we understand that what we are fighting for is bigger than us.”
The Ranger Fund.
The 21km race is taking place this Saturday 18th September, and will see more than 150 ranger teams across Africa participating in the 2021 Wildlife Ranger Challenge across the varied and challenging terrain of Africa’s Protected Areas. In 2020, the first edition of the Wildlife Ranger Challenge raised $10m to support over 9,000 rangers who collectively work to protect more than 4,000,000 km2 of conservation areas across Africa providing salaries, equipment and operating costs.
According to Kissama Foundation, Angola; “If it wasn’t for the WRC, we wouldn’t have been able to cover the salaries of most of the ranger force due to serious funding cuts related to the pandemic. The effort of many years could have been lost.”
According to Honeyguide Foundation, Tanzania; “Covid struck and with it brought uncertainty and the risk of losing more than just our goals, but everything that has been invested in over the past four years. The Wildlife Ranger Challenge restored hope and helped the rangers to realize that they were not alone; that their fellow rangers throughout Africa were all experiencing the challenges.”
This year, the Wildlife Ranger Challenge 2021 initiative seeks to raise a total of $5m. The Challenge’s founding donor, The Scheinberg Relief Fund, has generously committed another $1.35m of matching funds in support of rangers, on top of the $5m provided in 2020. In addition, for a second consecutive year, EJF Philanthropies has contributed $100,000 at Elephant Platinum Sponsorship leve.
Last month, British adventurer Bear Grylls kicked off the challenge with a video (bit.ly/2Z12F4M) describing the need for urgent action, and throughout the campaign, celebrities, including Tusk’s Royal Patron, HRH The Duke of Cambridge Prince William (bit.ly/3kebYGQ), Olympic marathon gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge (bit.ly/3kcEUin) and Namibian super model Behati Prinsloo Levine (bit.ly/399w8eM) have encourage the public to register to run the virtual race and donate to the Ranger Fund (bit.ly/3zbAHj5).
Funds raised will cover the operating costs for at least 5,000 rangers, enabling them to provide for their families, protect communities and wildlife in some of the continent’s most vulnerable areas. Tusk, NATURAL STATE, Game Rangers Association of Africa, The Thin Green Line, For Rangers, and the International Ranger Federation have partnered with 60 conservation areas to launch the pan-African challenge.
This global campaign seeks to use the power of ranger voices, influencers and celebrities to issue a call to arms to the public to support Africa’s rangers by donating to the Ranger Fund or by taking part in the Wildlife Ranger Challenge in solidarity, wherever they are in the world. To support, sign up to run or walk virtually in solidarity with Africa’s rangers this weekend, on the 18 September 2021.Find out more and to donate to the cause at WildlifeRangerChallenge.org.