Every day and night, conservation rangers put their lives on the line across Africa’s harsh terrain to protect our planet’s endangered species and ecosystems, and work for a better future for their communities, families, and neighbours.
They face a myriad of challenges including long hours, nights under the open skies, braving harsh weather, the threat of wild animal attacks, and low salaries without benefits or insurance. Nonetheless, they work tirelessly to preserve nature and guard against poaching, illegal logging, and other activities that harm their environment.
Today, their roles are changing – they are now also community scouts and wardens, educators teaching the next generation the value of conservation, health support workers helping local people find medical care, fire-fighters, invasive species controllers, and they can even work to stop new diseases like Covid-19 emerging from nature to harm people.
Yet they are mostly still seen only as armed men and women whose job is to protect wildlife, often at the expense of local people’s need to harvest natural products to survive.
To tell the real story of what it means to be a ranger in Africa today, more than 1,500 rangers in 103 teams from 20 African countries are taking part in the fourth annual Wildlife Ranger Challenge. Coordinated by African conservation charity Tusk and the Game Rangers Association of Africa (GRAA), the multi-million dollar fundraising initiative features a series of fitness challenges between June and September culminates with a 21km half-marathon race today, September 16, 2023. Donors and supporters worldwide are also running in support wherever they are.
Launched in 2020 to fundraise and support the welfare of rangers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Wildlife Ranger Challenge campaign has so far raised over $16 million and connected hundreds of rangers from 24 African countries with many thousands of supporters from more than 90 countries around the world – uniting the global north and the global south in a common goal.
This year, for the first time, select teams will gather at different locations in Kenya, Zambia, South Africa, and Uganda for regional ‘hub events’ – giving ranger teams the opportunity to compete directly with their regional counterparts. Alongside, thousands of rangers are taking part virtually from their respective protected areas across the African continent. And around the world, a further 1,500 supporters will run to raise funds for rangers.
Charlie Mayhew OBE, Chief Executive at Tusk says; “As the campaign enters its fourth year we’re inspired to see such exponential growth in collaboration, competition and goodwill amongst our protected area partners, and are grateful for the extraordinary philanthropic support provided by the Scheinberg Relief Fund, EJF Philanthropies and San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. We are truly proud of the movement we are all playing a part in. We now look to the future and will channel our efforts to scaling up the support and commitment provided to rangers across the continent for maximum impact.”
Andrew Campbell, Chief Executive at Game Rangers’ Association of Africa says; “It has been exciting to see the growth of the Wildlife Ranger Challenge amongst our profession. For the first time ever, this year we will host four regional races where teams from different areas will gather to test themselves against their colleagues. This promises to build camaraderie and foster a sense of collaboration and togetherness amongst ranger teams as they run together in solidarity. It is inspiring to see the passion, tenacity and teamwork on display as rangers unite for a common cause across the continent.”
As the challenge develops, it aims to become a movement amongst rangers and their colleagues across borders, driving global recognition and support along with improvements for the welfare of rangers in the field across Africa. Currently, these men and women are often working in extremely hazardous conditions and environments with little or no safeguarding: 89% of rangers surveyed across Africa had faced a life-threatening situation, 40% were not covered by health insurance, 50% had no life insurance, and 60% had no long-term disability insurance. The average monthly salary of a ranger is less than half that of most police officers.
Despite this, rangers will play a pivotal role if we are to meet global conservation targets to effectively protect 30% of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030 – the ‘30×30’ target in the Global Biodiversity Framework.