Paying Tribute To Bhutan’s Rangers On World Ranger Day
The first World Ranger Day was observed on July 31, 2007.
By Sangay Wangchuk | Kuensel
Sangay Wangchuk is a Researcher at the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment Research who is currently studying at Charles Stuart University, Australia. (Email: [email protected])
Known as the ‘Last Shangri La’, Bhutan is home to 11,248 species of flora and fauna. This carbon negative nation also has an estimated 816 million trees.
These 'feats' have been achieved through the visionary conservation policies meticulously crafted by Bhutan’s far-sighted leadership as well as a group of men and women – the rangers who are dedicated to making Bhutan a haven for biodiversity.
What is the definition of a ranger?
The International Ranger Federation (IRF) defines a ranger as a person involved in the practical protection and preservation of all aspects of wild areas, historical and cultural sites.
Photo: Facebook/International Ranger Federation
The IRF is an organisation that supports the work of rangers as the key protectors of parks and conservation areas. Therefore, rangers are also known as ‘conservationists’ in Bhutan.
Rangers around the globe work hard in the hope that their efforts will help in contributing to protecting Earth’s species, habitats, and resources for the enrichment of future generations.
In Bhutan, the rangers devote their lives to protecting its natural resources and cultural heritage.
More about World Ranger Day
The first World Ranger Day was observed on July 31, 2007, on the 15th anniversary of the founding day of the IRF.
Dr Jane Goodall's message for 2019 World Ranger Day.
Source: Facebook/International Ranger Federation
Thereafter, July 31 has been observed as World Ranger Day annually around the world. It is a day to thank our rangers for their dedication and commitment as well as for their tireless efforts to protect our wildlife and to fight wildlife crime.
It is also widely acknowledged that the challenges and risks rangers face have increased significantly in recent years. The involvement of organised crime groups in the illegal killings and trafficking of wildlife have heightened the risks that rangers face.
Thus, World Ranger Day is a day to remember the many rangers who have been injured or killed in the line of duty and to commend the critical work rangers do to protect the world’s natural and cultural treasures.
Wildlife trade and the important role of the rangers
On July 10, 2019, the Guardian covered a story about the third Interpol mission: “Operation Thunderball”, undertaken in 109 countries.
Mexican road inspectors seized this white tiger cub as part of Operation Thunderball.
Operation Thunderball seized many animals and animal parts which were bound for illegal trafficking - 23 primates, 30 big cats, more than 4,300 birds, nearly 1,500 live reptiles and close to 10,000 turtles and tortoises. The operation also confiscated 440 elephant tusks and an additional 545kg of ivory.
In another case, the BBC ran a story on July 23 titled, ‘Singapore seizes elephant ivory and pangolin scales in record $48m haul.’
According to the BBC, Singaporean authorities estimated that the latest seized tusks of 8.8 tonnes might have come from nearly 300 elephants while the pangolin scales of 11.9 tonnes, from about 2,000 pangolins.
Singapore alone has seized a total of 37.5 tonnes of pangolin scales since April 2019. Similarly, stories on seized animal parts coming from Cambodia, Hong Kong, Thailand and other countries are not encouraging too.
Based on the figures, the numbers speak for itself about the paramount work that our rangers need to do in order to minimise illegal animal trade and the torture of wild animals.
Survey on ranger employment conditions and welfare conducted by WWF
In 2018, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released a report, ‘Life on the frontline’, which was the outcome of the largest-ever survey on ranger employment conditions and welfare.
The report revealed that one in 15 wildlife rangers surveyed across Asia and Central Africa had broken a bone on the job while one in eight had sustained other types of serious injury within the last 12 months of the survey.
The survey also revealed that 82 percent of the rangers in Africa and 63 percent of the rangers in Asia had faced a life-threatening situation in the line of duty. 54 rangers from Bhutan participated in this survey.
Source: WWF Bhutan
In Bhutan, a ranger died during the National Forest Inventory after falling off a cliff while another lost his life due to high altitude sickness experienced during the snow leopard survey.
In another incident, a ranger lost his eye while guarding the community against elephant attacks while another ranger was thrown off a stone by a poacher which caused serious injury to his head.
Despite the risks they face in the line of duty, Bhutan’s dedicated men and women are not deterred to protect their natural and cultural heritage.
SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) patrolling sessions
To deter illegal trade of wildlife and animal parts, the rangers in Bhutan organise SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) patrolling sessions almost 20 times a month while those rangers working in the south undertake synchronised patrolling with rangers from India.
Synchronised patrolling is conducted once in two months to promote cross-border anti-poaching programs and to curb timber smuggling and wildlife trade.
Harsh working conditions faced by rangers in Bhutan
In Bhutan, the rangers spend over three months a year living at altitudes above 4,500 m during the cordyceps collection season. This is to ensure that the Bhutanese collectors reap the benefits of their country’s own resources.
Rangers on patrol at the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan.
Source: Youtube/Ranger Federation of Asia (RFA)
Besides that, Bhutan’s rangers frequently comb the thick tropical jungles. They often got into conflicts with poachers who were equipped with the latest weapons as well as illegal timber traders.
Some rangers even scour the mid-hills to remove any animal traps set by poachers. In fact, Bhutan’s rangers spend many sleepless nights just to ensure that the country does not become the ‘highway’ for red sanders smuggling trade.
Due to the nature of their job, many rangers see their families as little as once a year. This has the potential to cause immense stress to their personal relationships.
However, as pressures on nature grow, the survival of Bhutan’s endangered animals and their habitats depends largely on these men and women.
Incidences of illegal logging and violent poaching are at an all-time high. The work of rangers has never been more critical.
Today, our world stands at the crossroads, with so many of its most emblematic places and biodiversity under immense threat.
Thus, on World Ranger Day 2019, it is important to reflect upon the sacrifices that these rangers have made for they are indeed the un-sung heroes, constantly working hard to keep the ‘lungs’ of the earth breathing.
It is also a day to honour the fallen rangers and their colleagues who still undertake their roles in the field bravely. We must also not forget their families who have made sacrifices.
This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.