team Lioness - KenyaWe're transforming what it means to be a woman ranger
(Nairobi, Kenya – 30 July 2020) – Four months since COVID-19 quarantined them away from their families while they worked to protect wildlife in Kenya, the women rangers of team Lioness are beginning to return home to celebrate poignant family reunions.
“It’s quite emotional to know that as the world celebrates World Ranger Day this Friday, thousands of men and women wildlife rangers around the world have been restricted to the bush, or the forest, desert or jungle, unable to spend any time off with their families,” said James Isiche, IFAW Regional Director East Africa.
These include IFAW’s team Lioness; eight remarkable women aged 20-28 years who work as Community Wildlife Rangers (CWR) in the Olugului/Olarashi Group Ranch (OOGR) in Kenya’s Amboseli ecosystem. They are the first ever cadre of female rangers in the highly patriarchal Maasai community.
Last week Ruth Sikeita and Purity Lakara were the first of their group to return home to their villages for touching celebrations with their families and plenty of cuddles from their young children.
“My heart is full as I am seeing my son and daughter for the first time in four months,” said Ruth (28) while holding her two-year-old Bonham with her nine-year old daughter, Priscilla, standing close to her mother. Family and friends at her home village of Olasiti had earlier turned out to give her a warm welcome home.
Purity Lakara (23) was also looking forward to getting back to her village of Meshanani. “I will be very excited to see my two-year old daughter as I have missed being a mother,“ she said while packing her belongings in readiness to go home.
The two rangers returned to their bases yesterday. Other members of team Lioness will return two-at-a-time to their families over the coming few weeks.
"Every day rangers put themselves at risk to save wildlife. Patrolling the bush for weeks at a time, they always look forward to that much-needed break to connect with family and friends at home. For most rangers, COVID-19 ended that. Considered a critical service by the leaders of the OOGR, rangers have been obliged to remain on duty for months at a time, not knowing when to expect a few days at home. IFAW salutes them all," said Isiche.
The work of team Lioness and the rest of a 76-strong group of rangers in Group Ranch is supported by IFAW. Since 2012, IFAW has collaborated with the local community members of OOGR in Amboseli to secure 26,000 acres of critical wildlife migratory and dispersal habitat. IFAW has transformed this land to the Kitenden Community Wildlife Conservancy aimed at providing livelihoods for communities through tourism development and investment, as well as being a protected wildlife habitat.
Constantly at threat from armed poachers and, sometimes, dangerous wildlife, the pandemic has made the work of team Lioness more treacherous than ever. Due to the collapse of tourism, wildlife agencies around the region (Kenya included) have had to cut back on their operations due to loss of revenue. In the absence of regular patrols to act as a deterrence, the risk of losing wildlife to poaching is real. As a preemptive measure, IFAW has ensured that these community rangers step-up their patrols in order to keep wildlife secure, hence the long stay away from their loved ones.
IFAW supports rangers around the world in countries across Africa and the Middle East, in India and China. With a catastrophic drop-off in tourism numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these countries now lack the income from their national parks and protected areas to support their rangers.
IFAW is supporting more than 350 rangers in the field with protective gear, rations for rangers and the fuel needed to enable wildlife protectors to prevent poachers from targeting animals in remote areas. In Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, IFAW has supported 4,160 extra litres of fuel allowing rangers to patrol wilderness areas hundreds of kilometres from their bases; more than 2,350 protective items like masks, gloves and sanitizer have also been distributed.