'Wildlife rangers risk their lives every day to stop poachers'

We are protecting wildlife at risk from poachers due to the conservation funding crisis caused by COVID-19. Help is desperately needed to support wildlife rangers, local communities and law enforcement personnel to prevent wildlife crime. Donate to help Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade HERE 

Wildlife ranger describes how local communities help apprehend poachers

Julius Miyengo is Commander of a Special Anti Poaching Unit established by Game Rangers International, protecting wildlife in Zambia’s Kafue National Park. To mark World Rangers Day today we are celebrating the anti-poaching frontline, as part of The Independent’s Stop The Illegal Wildlife Trade campaign. Funds raised will to pay for vital wildlife protection projects implemented by the campaign’s partner charity Space for Giants. This will work to help stop the poaching and illegal trafficking of animals.

“My patrol team and I came across a large group of poachers in the bush. It was broad daylight. They had a concealed gun.

I remember my heart beating very fast. Fortunately it was pointing the opposite direction from us - and we were quicker to act. If we hadn’t, we could have died.

I’ve had ranger friends who haven’t been as lucky. I know some who have lost their lives in the field. I risk my life every day in my job.

I have been a wildlife ranger for 15 years and I have felt afraid many times. It is a dangerous job. That’s the truth of it.

Poachers can become wild. Some seemingly have a syndicate or ready buyers, and are supplied with ammunition or sophisticated firearms in order to poach elephant, buffalo, or kudu; big animals intended for commercial sale.

The Covid-19 conservation crisis has shown the urgency of The Independent’s Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade campaign, which seeks an international effort to clamp down on illegal trade of wild animals

We always carry firearms during patrols, either on foot or in a vehicle, but we have no other protection so we must act quickly and decisively. You cannot waste a second.

Poachers are crafty, so the strategy we use is that you always have to see them before they see you. We want to avoid fire exchange if possible, but sometimes it is necessary.

Coronavirus has made our job harder because there are more people are in the Park illegally.

People out of work are left with no option but to try and make a living another way, and some go into the bush to try poaching.

When we apprehend them, they say ‘we cannot fund ourselves, this is the first time I’ve been in the bush.’

It makes me feel bad, but we have to show that it doesn’t pay to kill wildlife. The animal is lost forever.

We also don’t know where they come from and whether they have the virus, so apprehending them is an even greater risk now

Being a ranger was always my dream job. I’m 38 now and developed a passion for conservation in school when learning about animals. My favourite is the cheetah. It is uniquely beautiful.

The wildlife we protect pose great dangers too. Any wounded animal, like a buffalo or elephant, will attack anything that comes close to them

The coronavirus poaching problem

There are many large snakes in the park, and four years ago a friend working alongside me got bitten by a Black Mamba.

He was carried to a vehicle and driven back to base, but by the time he got there he had sadly lost his life.

This job is all about dedication. If you have passion for it, you are able to cope with the bad, because every experience teaches you something. You never give up.

There are always a minimum of six of us in the patrol group because we never know what we may encounter

We’ve found groups of up to eight hunting. I’ve encountered so many poachers now I’ve lost count, and have apprehended 50 plus.

When we discover poachers they often run off, so you have to be fit enough to chase. It’s a very physical job – but fitness isn’t as important as having sharp eye and ears.

We rely on specialised intelligence to do our job, using GPS and satellite phones. We work with Game Rangers International, a unit that Space for Giants has helped train, equip and contributes to ranger salaries.

But it is not only technological intelligence. If one has a good relationship with the neighbouring communities you can develop a network of reliable informers – building a good rapport to help eliminate the bad seeds who are poaching.

Rangers play football in the communities and that’s where people are able to interact with us and share information.

Working in Kafue [which covers 22,400 km2] means it is sometimes not possible to quickly hand suspects over to the police.

Once we found a lone poacher during our morning patrol, but we were so far from base we had to handcuff him and camp out overnight with him, and then travel the following morning.

Julius Miyengo at home with his sisters, son and niece

My family do worry about me, but they are very supportive. They understand the importance of conservation, not only to protect the wildlife, but the benefit for the world.

They are very proud of me, and I feel lucky to be working in conservation. I was born to do it.”

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