Neddy Mulimo has spent 36 years in a dangerous line of work. With nearly four decades as a wildlife ranger under his belt, he now manages some of Zambia’s most elite anti-poaching units on behalf of Game Rangers International.
Mulimo, recipient of the 2022 Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award, recognises that the survival of Africa’s most vulnerable species rest on finding long-term solutions to protect habitats, reduce demand for wildlife products and engage local communities. No simple task – but one that Mulimo, his team and others like them, take on valiantly.
I’ve experienced my share of hair-raising moments while filming and on training missions. I’ve gotten into more scrapes than I wish to remember. But my experiences pale in comparison to the challenges and dangers faced by wildlife rangers such as Neddy Mulimo.
I’ve never ceased to admire the dedication and commitment of African wildlife rangers, who work tirelessly under extraordinary circumstances to protect the majestic beauty of our planet. As guardians of the natural world, the work of rangers is essential. Yet, few receive the support they need.
According to a recent study by WWF, the average ranger works almost 90 hours a week. Exhausted and under-funded, over 40 per cent regularly go without overnight shelter and over 60 per cent have no access to clean drinking water on patrol or at outpost stations. Few are even given suitable footwear.
The lack of resources is compounded by extremely dangerous working conditions, with threats, violence, injury and disease all too common. This reality has been tragically brought to the fore by a series of ranger deaths this year.
Most recently, the world was rocked by the fatal shooting of Anton Mzimba, the head ranger at the Timbavati reserve in South Africa. He had received multiple death threats, yet continued undeterred.
“What I’m doing, I’m not doing for my own sake,” Mzimba said in a 2021 interview. “I’m doing this for the world, for my children’s children, so that one day, when I hang my boots — when I retire, when I die — they are going to enjoy the wildlife.”
The murder of Mzimba has sparked concerns that criminal groups may be growing more brazen and violent in their efforts to secure illegal wildlife products. As the challenges facing wildlife rangers mount, it’s clear they need our support now more than ever.
Campaigns such as the Wildlife Ranger Challenge, organised by Tusk, are helping to plug the gap by generating crucial funding to widen access to essential equipment, enhanced training and protective measures. To date, the campaign has supported over 9,000 rangers across 24 African countries, becoming a springboard from which the entire rangering profession can be recognised and developed.
The multi-million dollar fundraising initiative culminated this year in the 21km half marathon on Saturday 17 September, which saw over 100 ranger organisations unite around one common goal: to raise vital funds for frontline conservation efforts at a time when resources are more thinly stretched before. On race day, a four man, all-star elite ranger team, competed in the challenge in a show of pan-African camaraderie and teamwork.
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Over the last three years, the challenge has raised a total of more than £12 million, ensuring rangers are adequately supported while protecting the world’s natural, cultural and historical heritage.
When rangers are supported, we not only see a marked increase in the safety and working conditions of rangers, but poaching rates also tend to drop.
We still have a long way to go, but hope is on the horizon. As the eyes and ears of Africa’s natural landscape, wildlife rangers must be adequately supported and recognised as stalwarts of conservation. For the sake of rangers, their families and the planet as a whole, we need to get behind those on the frontline of conservation.
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