Pushing for progress….one Bengal tiger at a time.
Dr. Jane Goodall, our ambassador, and my friend, knows something about pushing for progress. As a young woman in the 1950s, she defied convention and accepted scientific thinking to speak out on behalf of those she felt could not. Jane has inspired millions of women and men; not least of those the Rangers who, like her, find themselves on the frontline of the war against wildlife and wild places.
“From frontline anti-poaching work to research and community liaison,” says Dr. Goodall, “women Rangers are not only bringing their skills but their unique approach to this critical conservation role. They are the true heroes of this planet.”
This International Women’s Day, we at the Thin Green Line Foundation and the International Ranger Federation want to celebrate all women Rangers out there pushing for progress: pushing back the poachers, pushing for protection of wildlife and communities, pushing the boundaries of culture and custom, and pushing to find the balance between work and family.
One such remarkable Ranger is Singye Wangmo, who has dedicated her life to protecting animals like the Bengal tigers and the one-horned rhinoceros in Royal Manas National Park, Bhutan. Situated in the south of this little-known country, this National Park is one of the last sanctuaries for these magnificent creatures, and Bhutan is one of the 13 countries committed to increasing the number of tigers in the wild.
“I have always had a fascination for tigers, leopards, and elephants and all other wildlife,” says Singye. “They are breathtaking, marvelous and beautiful. I knew my calling was in this field from a young age.”
Despite the challenges of being in the bush for weeks on end, patrolling vast areas often with limited equipment and minimal back-up, Singye loves what she does.
“The journey at times may be physically and mentally challenging but there’s nothing like the happiness and contentment you get when you know you are making a meaningful difference in protection and conservation of wildlife.”
Being a Ranger isn’t all cuddling koalas and finding lost tourists. And while Yogi Bear may have run rings around Ranger Smith, Rangers today survive on their initiative, skills and passion for the job. The trade in illegal wildlife means that poaching has a human cost too. On average, two to three rangers are killed every week. Despite these very real risks, Singye draws her strength from her parents and husband.
“My family makes me feel like a star and encourages me to work harder and fulfill my dream of working on saving wildlife and their habitat,” she says.
The difference between returning home from patrol safely or not can be the simple difference of knowing some basic first aid. An experienced Ranger of nine years, Singye believes that training in essential skills, wildlife monitoring and conservation leadership is essential for Rangers who find themselves standing between endangered wildlife and flora and groups of well-armed poachers.
This is why we at the Thin Green Line Foundation support initiatives such as the Akashinga Project in places like the Lower Zambezi ecosystem in Zimbabwe. Akashinga means ‘the brave ones’ and there is no better example of where the war on wildlife and conflict between humans and animals plays out.
Previous trophy hunting reserves like the ones in Zimbabwe form natural boundaries with national parks like Victoria Falls, Hwange and Mana Pools and are home to an estimated 83,000 African elephants in the country. Since 2001 and the downturn in Zimbabwe’s economy, limited employment or livelihood opportunities have forced many communities to turn to poaching to earn an income. It is estimated that the numbers of elephants in these areas has declined by 40% since the start of the 21st century.
Our partner, the International Anti-Poaching Foundation implements the Akashinga project, training women from local communities to take on leadership roles and equipping them with the skills to be Rangers and form all-female anti-poaching squads. This model builds local ownership, and the Akashinga Rangers work with their friends, neighbours and families to find indigenous solutions to conservation. The success of such initiatives builds on the responsibility and kinship that the Akashinga women Rangers feel with the land where they were born and grew up.
Singye and the women of the Akashinga Project are just some of the many women who stand together as Rangers to protect our wildlife, preserve our wild-places and ensure that our children, like my son, will be able to experience the wonder of seeing African elephants or Bengal tigers at peace in their natural habitats.
We celebrate this International Women’s Day by standing with all our women Rangers – our everyday heroes, sharing their her-stories. As Singye eloquently summarises, “When passion meets purpose, it becomes much more than a job.”
To see more women Rangers please watch this short presentation.
Photographs of Akashinga Project taken by Adrian Steirn. Reproduced with permission by IAPF.