Boots on the Ground
The Black Rhinoceros teeters on the edge of extinction. Little over 5,000 roam wild in Africa today, as the international poaching trade relentlessly hunts down these noble beasts.
At Kenya’s Borana Conservancy, a team of highly-trained rangers is all that stands between the endangered rhino and extinction. These men risk their lives everyday to protect the wildlife around them.
Just looking after rhino on a day-to-day basis means looking for rhino. The importance of seeing each animal every day, if possible, cannot be underestimated.
Rhino can succumb to more than just poachers. Their poor eye sight makes them susceptible to falling down holes and banks. Injured or sick rhino lose condition fast and swift action must to be taken to aid their recovery. Even the seemingly simple act of eating unfamiliar food can make them ill. Predators are also a constant threat, particularly to the young, and as we work to establish this new population, trying to boost breeding rates is of crucial importance to us.
Each day, the rangers’ patrol scouts set out into their patrol zones. The terrain is vast and diligent tracking is necessary. Each rhino is identifiable to these men by its unique tracks. Subtle differences distinguish individual rhino and the rangers know them well. They may get a helping hand from a supervisor who, with the aid of telemetry, points them in the right direction, but tracking on the ground is crucial.
They might pick up tracks of poachers. They might find tracks of an encroaching male, in which case it’s possible that there may have been some territorial fighting. Finding that rhino is crucial. Trying to make time to get visuals on each rhino is time consuming, but rewarding. Following rhino down the path less trodden can lead to exciting and unexpected discoveries such as the incredible sighting of this mother and calf nonchalantly browsing amongst a pride of lion.
As the patrol scouts track the rhino, the peripheral scouts are also at work. They too are on the lookout for tracks and signs, all the while repairing and measuring fence voltages. Their job is crucial. They are protecting our neighbours and their crops from elephants and their livestock from lion. The fences they maintain also keep our rhino in, so that we can protect them.
Protecting rhino is cripplingly expensive and raising funds for the conservation of rhino is surprisingly difficult, even with the global attention the plight of rhino receives in the media. It makes sense that we all do this together – raising revenue for universal needs in a wider landscape.
The welfare of the rangers is of paramount importance. These are the men who have it in their power to keep rhino alive and we need to invest in them financially and personally. Their ownership of the difficult and often dangerous task they are performing is directly related to morale, and a level playing field of welfare must be standardised across all conservancies.
Once we know where our rhino are, from the dedicated daytime work of the rangers, we can begin to think about how to deploy our armed team. These dedicated men start their work late in the evening. They are deployed by their section commanders to locations where the rhino appear more vulnerable. Long nights await, sitting on a high-point with thermal imaging or night vision trained into the darkness, scanning the landscape for poachers. These men are the last line of defence. They are proud of their job and take it seriously. Each morning they return weary and foot-sore, yet still go for a team run.
The Marathon des Sables is described by the National Geographic as the toughest race in the world. It involves racing 240 kilometres across some of the hottest and most desolate terrain known to man for five days, carrying everything including food, sleeping bag and medical kit.
Pete, Sam, Hollie, Jacqs and Joss are running this event in April 2015, attempting to raise $1 million for rangers’ welfare across the private wildlife conservancies in Kenya.
By running For Rangers we hope to raise funds to ensure that all rangers are adequately equipped with good-quality basic equipment. These are the men who risk their lives to save the Black and White Rhinoceros and we must do all we can to help them. These are the men who are charged with saving a species. The long days and nights they spend in the field are the key to keeping rhino alive. If we are to save our wildlife, we must invest in these men and their welfare. Without them, we will lose.