31 July 2023

THE DIVERSE ROLE OF RANGERS AND WHY THEY ARE CRITICAL IN TIGER LANDSCAPES

Professional and well trained rangers are the backbone of conservation and protected area management. They’re indispensable to our planet. But if someone asked you to describe what a ranger is and what motivates them to protect nature and risk their lives, could you describe the complexity of their job? Let’s take a look at who rangers are, the challenges of working in tiger landscapes, and why they’re important. Rangers are known under a range of different names from planetary health workers, forest guardians, wildlife wardens, anti-poaching officers, and Indigenous Peoples and local community rangers. They come from small communities, large cities and everywhere in between. The workforce is made up of a diverse group of people from all walks of life who risk their lives to protect our natural world. But it’s important not to forget that beneath all of this, rangers are people just like us. Rangers work is diverse and it includes conservation, biological monitoring, visitor services, fire management, law enforcement, education and community support. In tiger landscapes they’re critical in protecting tigers, tiger prey, forests, freshwater sources and other resources that communities depend on. Let’s take a closer look. Community first responders

India’s Pilibhit Tiger Reserve is nestled into the foothills of the Himalayas and is a long, narrow forest where the boundaries between human and tiger habitats are blurred. Atul, a once hunter turned tiger champion leads a group of community volunteers known as Bagh Mitras, which translates to ‘Tiger Friends’. Atul and his team act as first responders to human-tiger conflict in their community. With the help of WWF, he has built a team of 12 tiger trackers from towns and villages surrounding Pilibhit. They now work hand in hand with the Forest Department to locate tigers, monitor their movements, spread awareness in their communities on how to stay safe and in extreme circumstances, relocate them. Today there are some 200 Bagh Mitras embedded in communities surrounding Pilibhit Tiger Reserve.

Working in tough conditions The Amur-Heilong region which encompasses northeast China and the Russian Far East can be a cold and unforgiving place. In the depths of winter the temperature can plummet to as low as minus 40 degrees, making it the coldest place you can find tigers in the world. But it’s not just tigers that have to endure these harsh conditions, the rangers that protect them live and work here too.

In the Dongning Forestry Bureau an all-female patrol team works to protect China’s tiger range. When they are not on patrol looking for signs of poachers or removing snares, they visit their local markets and interact closely with the communities in which they grew up, listening to their challenges and concerns and raising awareness of the need to protect tigers and other wildlife from poaching.

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Most of the team are second or third generation forestry people and their fathers and grandfathers walked these forests before them. © WWF / Dongning Forestry Bureau

Using Indigenous knowledge to protect wildlife A growing team of anti-poaching patrol officers in Malaysia is making a positive impact in one of the oldest rainforests in the world. Formed of Indigenous Peoples, this team has been patrolling Royal Belum State Park since 2018 which is home to the last stronghold of tigers in the country. Snares set by poachers had been decimating these forests of their wildlife, greatly impacting tiger numbers. Tigers were on the brink of extinction here but thanks to this community there’s now hope. Merapi, a senior anti-poaching officer, is part of the team that has been responsible for reducing the number of active snares in the forest by over 90%, a huge achievement. As we’ve seen, our planetary health workers are crucial to ensuring wildlife like tigers have a future. The dedicated team of rangers working in tiger landscapes take many forms, but they’re an understaffed and under resourced workforce. There are more people working in golf courses in the US than there are rangers protecting our natural areas in the world. We can’t achieve global nature-based goals such as the goal to protect 30% of the planet’s terrestrial and marine areas by 2030, or ambitions to expand the tiger's range without more professional and well-trained rangers. In order for that to change we need governments and decision-makers to build rangers into global policy that will elevate the workforce to the level needed to provide professional and effective management of our natural areas, resources and biodiversity.