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Rangers racing to save wildlife in Africa

By EDITH MUTETHYA in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily | Updated: 2021-09-18 09:44
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A wildlife security guard stands outside the Cross River National Park in Calabar, Nigeria, last Sunday. KOLA SULAIMON/AFP

Ranger teams across Africa are calling for public support as they join forces this weekend to bolster the anti-poaching efforts of thousands of their colleagues.

The initiative follows concern on the increase in poaching as rangers are stretched to capacity amid drastic cuts in resources due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In light of this, 150 ranger teams from 20 African countries will participate in the 2021 Wildlife Ranger Challenge across the varied and challenging terrain of Africa's protected areas. The 21-kilometer race will take place on Saturday.

The Wildlife Ranger Challenge is a multimillion-dollar fundraising initiative in support of the men and women on the frontline of Africa's protected areas safeguarding the continent's iconic wildlife.

The campaign seeks to use the power of ranger voices, social media influencers and celebrities to issue a call to the public to support Africa's rangers by donating to the Ranger Fund or taking part in the Wildlife Ranger Challenge in solidarity.

Organizers seek to raise a total of $5 million this year to cover the operating costs of at least 5,000 rangers, and protect communities and wildlife in some of the continent's most vulnerable areas.

Last year, the first edition of the challenge raised $10 million that covered the salaries of over 9,000 rangers who collectively worked to protect more than 4 million square kilometers of conservation areas across Africa. The funds also covered equipment and operating costs.

Funding cuts

"If it wasn't for the Wildlife Ranger Challenge, we wouldn't have been able to cover the salaries of most of the ranger force due to serious funding cuts related to the pandemic. The effort of many years could have been lost," said Angola's Kissama Foundation in a statement published on Wednesday by Tusk, an organization that funds wildlife conservation programs.

According to an earlier survey by Tusk and nonprofit Natural State, poaching has increased significantly due to the collapse of wildlife tourism.

Loss of tourism revenue meant the elimination of essential wildlife protection funding as countries channeled available finances on fighting the pandemic.

Increased unemployment and lack of income, especially for communities that depended on ecotourism coupled with reduced ranger presence, has resulted in an increase in poaching.

With ranger capacity remaining low and international borders starting to open, the survey projects that poaching threats will increase further.

Survey findings indicated that COVID-19 has resulted in an almost complete end to cross-border travel, severely affecting countries dependent on tourism revenue as a significant part of their gross domestic product.

According to the survey, Africa's GDP is likely to lose $53 billion to $120 billion due to the pandemic impact on the tourism sector.

"The impact of the pandemic on revenue generation was so serious that nearly half of protected areas across Africa reported that they could only maintain basic operations for up to three months if the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 continued to be enforced," the survey said.

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