Every River Has Its People: Making a difference where it countsJuly 6, 2012
A practical approach to integrated livestock and wildlife managementJuly 6, 2012
By Peter Bridgeford
The future of conservation in Africa and the preservation of its wilderness lie in the hands of its natural resource managers and field rangers. These are the conservationists who provide the voice of experience, and it is the mission of the Game Rangers Association of Africa to ensure that those responsible for the future of conservation in Africa are dedicated, motivated, skills-trained, ethical and professional in the execution of their duties. Founded in 1971, the Game Rangers Association of Africa is a non-racial, non-political body that does not prescribe to any conservation organisation, but works with various organisations to the benefit of the people, the country and its rangers.
Professionally, game rangers are wildlife managers. They are the field forces in Africa, working at the ‘coal face’ of conservation. Their tasks are multi-faceted, and include research, monitoring, game capture and introductions, population management, burning programmes, infrastructure and equipment maintenance, public relations, environmental education, community liaison and involvement, and financial and human-resource planning and administration. If they are not supported, assisted and listened to, the future of conservation and the maintenance of biodiversity will fail.
Some of the objectives of the Game Rangers Association of Africa are:
• To highlight issues faced by game rangers;
• To be a voice aimed at decision makers on conservation issues in Africa;
• To enable rangers to carry out their tasks efficiently;
• To communicate with each other effectively; and
• To promote the goals and ideals of the Association.
One of the important objectives is support for rangers and their families throughout the world, but especially in Africa. Each year many rangers are injured or lose their lives defending protected areas under their control. Through the UN and IUCN, on which the International Ranger Federation and GRAA are represented, talks with conservation agencies and governments are taking place to ‘protect the protectors’. For example, in the past few years, due to several rangers having been killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park, the GRAA has been organising the distribution of body armour donated by rangers from the state of California in the USA.
The GRAA has publicly supported the South African National Parks, which is calling for culling as a method of elephant population control in the Kruger National Park. In the often heated debate about the building of the N2 toll road through the Wild Coast, the GRAA objection was the only one that questioned the impartiality of the company doing the EIA, as the company had a strong relationship with the consortium that would build the road. This valid objection led to the decision by the relevant minister not to approve the building of the road.
To promote the GRAA in Namibia and make members of the profession and the public aware of the association, the first meeting was held in February 2006. The Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust on the NamibRand Nature Reserve hosted the meeting at their facilities. Over 70 rangers, ex-rangers and other interested people met in superb surroundings among the dunes. Visitors came from Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and even the UK. On the first day of this extraordinary meeting, delegates had the opportunity to listen to several leading Namibian conservationists who spoke on a wide range of interesting subjects concerning the country’s environment. Tim Snow, chairman of GRAA, gave background information and stated the aims and objectives of the association. During breaks, delegates had the opportunity to meet rangers from other countries, exchange ideas and make new friends.
The second day was spent on a field trip, giving many of the visitors their first close-up encounter of the Namib Desert, although, after the copious rains, Namib-Rand did not look much like a desert. The day ended in an unusual and symbolic manner while the group was having sundowners on a dune. A soft shower of rain fell and then the sun emerged again for a few minutes before setting to the sounds of a bagpipe played by Tim Snow. Two well-attended early-morning walks, led by veteran desert guide Marc Dürr, took delegates to search for smaller animals and their tracks on the dunes.
The AGM of the GRAA was held on the last day. The report-back by the various office holders gave the delegates a good idea of the scope and achievements of the association over the past year. That evening, the annual awards ceremony took place. These are awards given to members for exceptional services to conservation and are highly regarded, as they are recognition of the recipients of the awards by their peers.
Silver medals were awarded to Crispian Barlow from the Balule Nature Reserve for his outstanding successes against poaching and theft in the reserve. Ed Ostrosky from Esemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife received an award for the leading role he played in ranger training in South Africa and Keith Roberts of the Friedkin Conservation Fund in Tanzania for his anti-poaching work. The bronze medal went to the Friedkin Conservation Fund anti-poaching unit. Certificates of recognition and appreciation were also awarded. These formal proceedings ended the very successful and enjoyable meeting, but the talk around the fire continued late into the night, strengthening the camaraderie of the previous few days amongst rangers, young and old, from across Southern Africa.
The GRAA would like to build up its membership in Namibia to include past and present rangers, young and old, to represent the country. With a strong membership base, it aims to be recognised as the body representing professional rangers. With a wealth of experience in its membership base, the GRAA can assist the conservation authorities to the benefit of Namibian conservation. The GRAA is not politically or union oriented. It is there to speak for a very important sector of our society, the professional ranger. With the growing dependence on tourism in our economy, the work of rangers in our protected areas is becoming increasingly important.
This article appeared in the 2006/7 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.