Did you know that Bhutan is home to 11,248 species (2017) within all biodiversity taxa? Did you know that there are an estimated 816 million trees growing in Bhutan? And, did you know that, estimated, 103 tigers and 96 snow leopards share our landscapes?
Thanks to our visionary conservation policies meticulously crafted by our far-sighted leadership, with good conservation policies guided by visionary leaders, we needed a group of dedicated men and women to achieve these ‘numbers’. The answer – Our Rangers.
The International Ranger Federation (IRF) defines a ranger as a person involved in the practical protection and preservation of all aspects of wild areas, historical and cultural sites. IRF is an organization that supports the work of rangers as the key protectors of parks and conservation. So, ranger here refers to all conservationists we have in Bhutan.
Rangers around the globe work by carrying the hope that their efforts are helping to contribute protecting species, habitats, and resources for the enrichment of future generations. Our rangers devote their lives to protecting our natural resources and cultural heritage and, in some areas; these brave men and women regularly encounter well-resourced groups of poachers, equipped with latest weapons. Want to hear more stories? Talk to our rangers who spend their time devoted to conservation.
The first World Ranger Day was observed on July 31, 2007, on the 15th anniversary of the founding day of the IRF. Now, July 31 is observed as the World Ranger Day. It is a day to thank our rangers for the dedication, commitment and for their tireless efforts to protect wildlife and fight wildlife crime!
It is widely acknowledged that the challenges and risks rangers face have increased significantly in recent years. The involvement of organized crime groups in illegal killing of and illicit trafficking in wildlife has heightened the risks rangers face. Thus, World Ranger Day is a day to remember the many rangers who were injured or killed in the line of duty and to commend the critical work rangers do to protect the world’s natural and cultural treasures.
Wildlife Trade and Rangers
Here’s how grave the illegal trade of wild animals and their parts is in the world. The Guardian on July 10, 2019, covered a story about the third Interpol mission: “Operation Thunderball”, undertaken in 109 countries. According to the Guardian, Operation Thunderball seized many wildlife and among the animals seized were 23 primates, 30 big cats, more than 4,300 birds, nearly 1,500 live reptiles and close to 10,000 turtles and tortoises. The operation was also successful in confiscating 440 elephant tusks and an additional 545kg of ivory. Hold on!
On July 23, the BBC ran a story titled, “Singapore seizes elephant ivory and pangolin scales worth $48m haul”. According to BBC, Singaporean authorities estimated that the, latest seized tusks of 8.8 tonnes might have come from nearly 300 elephants and pangolin scales of 11.9 tonnes from about 2,000 pangolins. Singapore alone seized a total of 37.5 tonnes of pangolin scales since April 2019. Similarly, stories on seized animal parts coming from Cambodia, Hong Kong, Thailand and other countries aren’t encouraging too.
The numbers speak for itself about the paramount work our rangers need to achieve to minimize animal trade and torture of wild animals.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released a report, “Life on the frontline 2018”, which was the outcome of the largest-ever survey on ranger employment conditions and welfare. The report revealed that one in 15 wildlife rangers surveyed across Asia and Central Africa had broken a bone on the job during the same timeframe and one in eight sustained another type of serious injury within the last 12 months of the survey. The survey also revealed that 82 percent of rangers in Africa and 63 percent of rangers in Asia had faced a life-threatening situation in the line of duty. 54 rangers from Bhutan participated in the survey.
In Bhutan, we lost a ranger during the National Forest Inventory after falling off a cliff and we lost another due to high altitude sickness during the snow leopard survey. A ranger lost his eye while guarding the community against elephant attacks. A ranger was thrown off a stone by a poacher causing serious injury to his head. There are several stories, which slip by, however, our dedicated men and women are not deterred to protect our natural and cultural heritage to ensure we leave something for our children.
For our Rangers
Today, many have changed and many developmental activities have taken place. What has not changed is the anti-poaching activities which our rangers have to pursue and this, unfortunately, has become frequent with increasing illegal trade of wildlife and animal parts.
For example our rangers organize SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) patrolling almost 20 times a month and rangers working in the south undertake synchronized patrolling with rangers from India. Synchronized patrolling is conducted once in two months to promote the cross-border anti-poaching program and to, possibly, curb timber smuggling and wildlife trade.
Our rangers spend over three months above 4,500 meters during the cordyceps collection season to ensure Bhutanese collectors reap the benefits of our own resources. Our rangers frequently comb our thick tropical jungles, often coming in conflict with out-numbered poachers with latest weapon and illegal timber traders. Our rangers comb our mid-hills removing animal traps set by poachers. Our rangers spend sleepless nights to ensure that Bhutan does not become the highway for red sanders smuggling trade. Many rangers see their families as little as once a year, causing immense stress to personal relationships.
As pressures on nature grow, the survival of endangered animals and their habitats depends, largely, on these men and women. Illegal logging and violent poaching crisis are at an all-time high. The work of rangers has never been more critical. Today, our world stands at a crossroads, with so many of its most emblematic places and biodiversity under immense threat. Thus, on World Ranger Day 2019, let’s all take a moment to remember all rangers, known and unknown, who have paid the ultimate price during the past years.
Let’s pause for a moment to reflect the sacrifice that these rangers make. Let’s pause to honour the fallen rangers and their colleagues who still undertake their role in the field bravely. Let’s not forget their families who equally make sacrifices. Our rangers indeed are the un-sung heroes, working hard to keep the ‘lungs’ of the earth breathing.
Let us salute their sacrifice on this World Ranger Day 2019.
Researcher at the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment Research, currently studying at Charles Sturt University