Chitwan is venue for World Ranger Congress
Around the world, rangers in protected areas are at the frontlines of wildlife conservation, yet they receive little recognition for putting their lives at risk. That is set to change with a major international conference of rangers in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park next week.
Some 550 rangers from 70 countries will be in Sauraha for the 9th World Ranger Congress organised by the International Ranger Federation with the Ministry of Forest and Environment of Nepal and Wildlife Conservation Association Nepal (WildCan).
“Hosting this congress in Nepal is a milestone and an opportunity to showcase Nepal’s achievements in biodiversity conservation, as well as to learn from good practices around the world,” says Maheswar Dhakal at the Ministry of Forests and Environment. “It will recognise the contribution of rangers in protecting nature in Nepal and around the world.”
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The Congress is held every three years, this year being the first time it has been organised in Asia at a moment when wildlife is under increasing threat in national parks around the world, putting rangers at increasing risk. More than 1,000 rangers have been killed in the line of duty in the past 10 years, with 149 killed by poachers in the past year alone — mostly in Africa. A survey in 2016 showed that nearly three-fourths of rangers had faced life-threatening situations on patrols.
“This time it was Asia’s turn to host the Congress, and Nepal was the most serious proposal received,” said Sean Wilmore, President of the International Ranger Federation. “Nepal has proven itself as an example to follow having achieved Zero Poaching of rhinos.”
Africa is losing more than three rhinos a day to poachers. Botswana’s population of 160,000 wild elephants were till recently regarded as safe from ivory smugglers, but there has been a 10-fold increase in poaching in the past five years.
“The Congress will look at strategies to get more women involved as rangers and also ensure they are protected while protecting wildlife, and help them cope with the threats,” says former ranger Thorunn Sigthorsdottir from Snæfellsjökull National Park in Iceland who is taking part. “Having the Congress in Nepal is recognition of Nepal’s achievements in conservation."
The main themes at the Congress will be the safety and welfare of rangers, most of whom do not have life insurance policies and lack proper equipment. In addition, the specific challenges faced by female rangers will be discussed at a time when only six percent of rangers worldwide are women.
There are also panels to look into the important role members of indigenous communities can play as rangers. National park staff belonging to Australian aboriginal groups, Maoris from New Zealand, Andean indigenous communities in Peru, local rangers from Masai Mara in Kenya as well as Nepal’s own Tharus will be represented. Among prominent participants will be Angola’s Minister of Environment Min Paula Cristina Francisco Coelho, herself a former ranger.
There are also panels on technology with rangers showcasing use of drones as well as other satellite-based GPS tracking techniques that rangers can use to combat poachers.
Wilmore listed the most serious challenges faced by rangers worldwide: “Safety at work and equipment of rangers who must deal with poachers and wildlife traffickers, under-representation of women in the ranger workforce, climate change.”