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Caring for wild animals more than a job

Features
 Caring for wild animals more than a job [Courtesy, files Standard]

A PowerPoint presentation. The audience is, in equal parts, captivated, shocked and saddened. On the screen is a picture of a giraffe whose neck has been nearly severed.

One ranger clutches the limp neck, while two others stand by, their expressions a mosaic of pity and horror. The giraffe, a gentle giant of the African Savannah, had been hunted for its flesh by poachers looking for bush meat.

They were particularly cruel about it too.

“They use what we call a kadoo. This is a very bright spotlight that can blind an animal. It is tied to horns that are noisy, so the horn will help you walk closer to the animal and it will not hear you coming close,” says Patrick Papatiti, Director Of Operations at Olgulului Community Wildlife Rangers (OCWR).

“The bright light will distract the eyesight so the animal will not see you. They do it during the night. They get close to the giraffe and cut the tendons. In this particular instance, they went to the neck to kill it very fast. A very painful death.”

But it gets sadder. On the next slide, two giraffes lie prone on the ground, with one’s hooves visibly ensnared in a web of fencing wire. This particular incident happened just five days before today.

“On your way to Namanga from here, people are fencing ranches. This farm is about 800 acres. Animals are used to walking into this place, grazing and going back out. So they get entangled by the strands from the wires that have just been placed and then they cannot get themselves out, so they just die,” says Patrick.

In that particular farm, the rangers found close to 12 dead giraffes, some entangled in the wires while others had died of starvation and thirst because there was no water inside and they could not find their way out.

For these dedicated rangers, this is just a glimpse into their daily struggles. They confront poachers, navigate the treacherous terrain of human-wildlife conflicts, and work tirelessly to protect these magnificent creatures.

Lillian Nailantei, a ranger at Maasai Mara, offers a glimpse into her daily patrol routine. “When I go around, I check if there are poachers. That is our main agenda. Two, I check if there is illegal grazing, which we don’t allow. Three, I check if the animals are safe. I also check if animals are injured and if I find an injured animal, I figure out how we can help it,” she says.

She struggles to remember if she has had a scary incident when I ask her and eventually says none. It turns out to be because, given the nature of her work, danger is just part of the package. It literally comes with the territory.

“We come face to face with dangerous animals all the time,” she says. Rangers don’t fear much, but buffaloes come close. That is what most rangers mention when I ask them which animal scares them most. And when she really thinks hard, she remembers that one time came face to face with one but survived the ordeal.

“We know how to deal with the animals in the park. You can’t see the animal coming and start shooting. There is a way to handle it,” she says.

It is a tough job – in a day, a group of rangers covers 80 kilometres on patrol, with each team covering not less than 20 kilometres.

We are at the Musiara ranger base in Maasai Mara as we speak with Lillian, for the commissioning of new and renovated ranger housing aimed at improving ranger welfare.

Near us are a few people in reflector jackets are networking cables to ensure that the new buildings that have just been put up have solar power installed in them.

 Lillian Nailantei, a ranger at Maasai Mara [Courtesy, files Standard]

It’s a welcome relief from the scorching sun when we get onto the corridors of the buildings and have a look. It’s much cooler here, a far cry from the tin houses that are right next to the new buildings. The tin houses are a relic from the 1960s, making Musiara is one of the oldest ranger bases in Kenya.

The genesis of all this was when Azzedine Downs, IFAW’s president and CEO, visited Kenya. He spoke to President William Ruto about Room to Roam, an initiative which aims to secure a network of 12 connected, critical landscapes, each of which is home to at least 10,000 elephants, which will enable wildlife and people to flourish together.

Corridors need to be created for elephants and other wildlife to move about freely. However, none of that can be done without the rangers.

“There’s so much focus on the wildlife and the stories about the wildlife. But the fact of the matter is that these are the people who spend all day outside in the bush in dangerous situations. There’s a lot of focus on equipment. We need vehicles. We need weapons. We need boots. We need uniforms, things like that,” says Azzedine.

But the fact of the matter is, they also need to be fit, healthy and have a good frame of mind to get up every morning.

IFAW built new facilities and also rebuilt and refurbished some of the older buildings at the ranger base. And what do the Rangers feel about it?

“It gives us morale to work even harder than we used to. It takes away the complaints and makes our work easier,” says Parsaloi.

For these rangers, it isn’t just about bricks and mortar. It’s about respect and recognition. When the rangers are respected, the community feels respected as well, making conservation work easier for everyone.

The rangers, in turn, need the community to be able to do their work. In Kitenden Conservancy, in Amboseli, where IFAW’s Olgulului Community Wildlife Rangers (OCWR) are based, Papatiti explains.

“Community support is a good thing. Sometimes we go out of our way to make sure that anyone who either gets sick from the village gets help, as clinics are very far from here,” he says.

“At funerals, we find ourselves helping them coordinate and helping them get the body back to the village and buried in the villages. When animals injure people, then that becomes part of our responsibility, as well to make sure that at least very fast, we get that person to the clinic to get care.”

It’s a symbiotic relationship that underpins their vital conservation work. In the end, the rangers are the unsung heroes. As they are empowered and respected, the delicate balance between humans and wildlife is upheld, giving hope for a future where both can flourish together.

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