Rangers in 21km conservation challenge run

Marcus Westbag

ORGANISERS of the Tusk Wildlife Ranger Challenge say wildlife rangers play a pivotal role in protecting natural, cultural and historical heritages.

Local elite field rangers successfully took part at this year’s third edition of the Tusk Wildlife Ranger Challenge 21km half marathon held over the weekend.

The Conservation and Wildlife Fund (CWF) and Painted Dog Conservation joined rangers under the pan-African Wildlife Ranger Challenge to raise funds to support thousands of their colleagues in the field.

The challenge featured over 100 ranger organisations from more than 20 African countries including Zimbabwe.

In a world-first, the event also witnessed an elite team of four wildlife rangers attempt to set the fastest known time for completing a half marathon while carrying a 22kg load each.

This year’s race day coincided with the African Ranger Congress that took place in Kasane, Botswana, at which Tusk and its partners, the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa and Natural State, brought together delegates to take part in the challenge.

Public participation in the event, however, stretched far and wide, with members of the public from across the globe running in solidarity with the rangers in their home cities.

The race was preceded by a series of mental and physical trials, with a new mini-challenge featuring this year for ranger teams with canine units, in which dogs and handlers demonstrated their tracking skills.

In a statement, the challenge organisers said the common goal was to raise funds for frontline conservation efforts at a time when resources are more thinly stretched than ever before.

“The Wildlife Ranger Challenge comes in to alleviate present challenges and offer support by raising vital funds, which will widen access to essential equipment, enhanced training and protective measures,” said the organisers, adding that the challenge was also playing a catalyst role needed for the development of the ranger profession by increasing recognition for the critical roles they play.

“Too often, wildlife rangers are deeply misunderstood. However, the rangers who participated in the Wildlife Ranger Challenge half marathon reflected the great diversity within the profession, with many playing wide-ranging roles as conservationists, teachers, community support workers and leaders, contributing not just to protecting wildlife and supporting their immediate communities, but to global UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

The challenge organisers said tragically, a number of rangers pay the ultimate price, as reflected in the Roll of Honour screened during the annual Tusk Conservation Awards.

“The challenge in which guardians of the natural world raced across Africa’s protected areas aim to build upon the last two years of fundraising, amounting to more than £10 million raised to date. All participating teams completed the gruelling half marathon race while also carrying 22kg weight equivalent to an average fully packed check-in suitcase,” the organisers noted.

The organisers further explained: “A Global Survey of the Working Conditions of Rangers conducted by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), revealed that the average ranger works almost 90 hours a week. The survey also noted that over 60% surveyed have no access to clean drinking water on patrol or at outpost stations, and almost 40% report they regularly have no access to shelter while on patrol at night.”

They said the Wildlife Ranger Challenge has potential to change the status quo.

“All too often, rangers operate under poor and dangerous working conditions. The lack of resources is compounded by extremely dangerous working conditions, with threats, violence, injury and disease all too common. Up to 70% rangers surveyed by the WWF have contracted malaria within a 12-month period, and over 40% have received threats from community members,” the organisers emphasised.

“With matched funding from the Scheinberg Relief Fund and the vital partnership of the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa, Tusk looks forward to seeing this initiative of Africa, for Africa, transform and reach even greater heights.”

Anti-Poaching Unit Team commander, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy George Kamasiai said he was proud to be part of the all-star team that represented the Wildlife Ranger Challenge at the African Ranger Congress.

“My work as a ranger is complex and wide-ranging. While we are often thought of as working solely out in the field, we know how important it is to engage local communities in conservation through development, education and advocacy,” he said.

Adventurer and Tusk ambassador Bear Grylls said: “The time achieved by the all-star team in Kasane is extraordinary, reflecting the exceptional calibre of individuals working across the front lines of Africa’s protected areas. Despite facing enormous challenges, rangers continue to go above and beyond, and could not be more deserving of our support.”

Tusk chief executive Charlie Mayhew said the Wildlife Ranger Challenge brought the vital work of rangers to the fore by providing an opportunity to generate crucial funding for the men and women working on the front line of conservation.

He further stated that the campaign has to date supported over 9 000 rangers across 24 African countries, becoming a springboard from which the entire ranger profession can be recognised and developed.

Founder of Scheinberg Relief Fund Mark Scheinberg said: “We are proud to have supported the Wildlife Ranger Challenge in its third year, an important event that highlights the incredible efforts of rangers across Africa and raises vital funds to support their livelihoods, the conservation areas in which they live and the iconic wildlife that they work so hard to protect.

“It was a personal pleasure to meet dozens of rangers in Kenya last year — truly local heroes. Without their daily dedication, wildlife in the region and across Africa would not survive.”

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