Did you know that wildlife spend 70-80% of their time outside national parks and in community lands? For every 10 wild animals you see during a game drive within your favorite national park, up to eight of these wild animals will most likely be within the community-owned lands for the larger part of the year. What then guarantees you an opportunity to find healthy wildlife numbers the next time you take your family or friends to the national park after a year or two? Community rangers.
As part of their day-to-day activities, community rangers answer to distress calls ranging from both wildlife and community members. When an elephant family visits their favorite watering hole within community-owned land and a baby elephant slips into one of the holes, community rangers find a solution to the challenge. On the other hand, when young children from the community get lost and cannot find their way back to their families, the family members call on the community rangers to step in and track these children on their behalf. Both these situations are factual challenges that have faced community rangers within the first four months of 2020.
Even as the community rangers handle these homegrown obstacles, an unprecedented challenge has been creeping across national borders, and is now a reality within the Amboseli ecosystem as much as it is a reality in many other parts of the world. COVID-19 has greatly affected the 392km2 Amboseli National Park also known as “The Home of the African Elephant” which figuratively speaking lies “within the belly” of the 150,000 hectares of community land in the ecosystem. As usual, when the belly is affected, the rest of the body is unwell too. To put this into context, many are keen to obey social distancing directives issued internationally, and with the ban on international flights to Kenya, there has been a decline in tourism numbers to the Amboseli National Park, which has led to declined revenues. This shortage in revenue will have a direct impact on ability of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers and community rangers to provide security for wildlife among other operations, such as response to human wildlife conflicts. With wildlife spending a lot of time out of the park due to increased rainfall, (there is plenty of water outside the Park meaning they don’t have to rely solely on the swamps in the Park), cases of conflict with the community will increase. Although community rangers have made sacrifices not to interact with their own families to stop the spread of the pandemic, they may at some point have to interact with irate community members affected by wildlife exposing them to the virus.
Reports in Tanzania indicate that the Enduimet Wildlife Management Authority (EWMA), whose main source of income is wildlife tourism has had to reduce the number of rangers, as they cannot sustain employment for all rangers with reduced revenues. This means that the intensity of patrols along the Kenya–Tanzania border by EWMA rangers has reduced. Consequently, the IFAW-funded rangers from Amboseli have had to step up their patrols and ensure that poachers do not exploit any gaps that may arise leading to an increase in poaching.
During this period, the community rangers will need salaries to sustain them, fuel, and maintenance for their vehicles to support extensive anti-poaching patrols as well as face masks and disinfectants. Will you support them?
-Christopher Kiarie, tenBoma Project Manager