The preservation of our fauna and flora and our national parks is entrusted to a small group of people who make their entire lives about conservation. Sometimes, when facing poachers, they even give their lives to the cause they serve.
World Ranger Day is marked annually on July 31 to commemorate rangers who have died in the course of their duties, and to acknowledge those who risk their lives, in their work at the forefront of conservation.
In South Africa, game rangers face poachers almost daily in their battle to end the decimation of wildlife species, from the poaching of rhino and abalone to the illegal removal of plants such as cycads and Proteas.
SANParks Cape Region celebrated World Ranger Day on Monday July 31 at the West Coast National Park.
Stakeholders present included the South African Police Service (SAPS), Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), Department of Environmental Affairs(DEA) and various municipality groups.
The day’s activities honoured the South African ranger core, who travelled from all five national parks to take part in the celebrations.
The day celebrated all rangers by showing support for the vital work they do, from environmental campaigning to education.
The rangers were also thanked for all the extraordinary work they do to ensure that the integrity of all the beautiful national parks remain intact.
One of these rangers, who is Sector Ranger for Silvermine, is Elmonique Pietersen.
Her drive to become a ranger was woken even in school, and it was her first port of call to study. “I always wanted to be involved in making positive changes in the environment, but, the kind of changes that everyone could enjoy and benefit from,” said Ms Pietersen.
“I always wanted to show people the importance of conserving the present environment. For me, being an urban ranger dedicated to conservation is amazing because the scope is so wide.”
She spoke about the ever present threat of poachers and the danger of anti-poaching operations, then about the need to remove invasive species and its impact if left alone.
Then she spoke about the care that has to be taken of endangered species and how delicate the eco-system is, and how this balance of fauna and flora needs to be maintained.
Aware that its a slightly unusual choice for a woman, said Ms Pietersen hopes that other young women will be inspired to enter the field of conservation because of the variety of things to do in it.
“We really are at the forefront of an ever-changing and dynamic environment and being a woman means we are able to be flexible and focus on, and adapt to, all that change,” said Ms Pietersen. She laughs, adding that managing it requires a patience and a one-day-at-a-time attitude.
She said specific challenges include balancing people’s need to, and right to, enjoy the natural heritage of the country they were born into, with the proper conservation of the areas.
Only the rangers know directly the kind of challenge this can present, she said, because not everyone responds well to being guided away from what they are doing – especially if they don’t understand the impact of their actions. Education about safe interaction with highly sensitive areas and eco-systems is so important for the public, said Ms Pietersen.
She said this information protects people and the environment and actually allows for more enjoyment, not less.
“The challenges vary vastly from area to area. What we deal with as priority will be very different to what our fellow rangers in the Kruger Park or even the West Coast National Park have to deal with.”
Ms Pietersen said the day to commemorate rangers is dearly appreciated. “It is beautiful that people remember the impact that individual rangers have on our unique eco-system – not only for us – but also for our future generations as well,” she said.
The commemoration of rangers is the brainchild of the International Rangers Federation (IRF). It is promoted by the 54 member associations of the IRF, by its partner the Thin Green Line Foundation, and by individuals who support the work of Rangers and the IRF.
The first World Ranger Day was observed in 2007 on the 15th anniversary of the founding of the IRF.
The Game Rangers’ Association of Africa (GRAA) – a member association of the IRF – provides support, networks and representation for game rangers across Africa, and is a longstanding and well-established defined community of practice.