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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 3:49 am | Fair 54º


Maria Fotopoulos: Rangers Provide Thin Green Line Protecting Wildlife Against Poachers, Extinction

On a dark Mozambique night just over a year ago, sleeping villagers were brutally attacked in their homes. It was coordinated, targeted violence against men who work to stop the poaching of some of the planet’s remaining rhinos.

Today a rhino is killed every eight hours, and estimates indicate that a mere 30,000 now live, down from millions a few centuries ago.

Family members also became victims as the assailants looted homes, destroying personal property and donated bikes, cell phones and radios — all equipment essential for anti-poaching work. The vicious assault left one man with critical injuries after he was abducted, tortured and dumped roadside.

This is just one story among many about the dangers park rangers face in their critical work to save Earth’s endangered and threatened wildlife and other biodiversity.

Today, serving as a ranger or guard in a park, preserve or sanctuary is among the most challenging jobs in the world. In the past 10 years, hundreds of rangers have been killed in the line of duty. Some have lost their lives in tribal or boundary disputes; many die or are wounded at the hands of illegal loggers, terrorists and poachers.

In many places, the dangerous employment is often poorly compensated, with rangers working away from their homes and family for long periods of time.

Even in the United States, NPR reported rangers face many risks. They cover wide spaces and remote locales, often with little backup. As the law enforcement for public lands, park rangers deal with varied crimes, from sexual assaults and stabbings to weapons and drugs scenarios, such as meth labs and marijuana growing on public lands.

One ranger noted that the issues of the broader society are reflected in our supposed protected wild spaces. That includes, globally, a dramatic increase in wildlife and plant trafficking — illicit trade valued at an estimated $70 million to $213 billion annually.

So as long as this rape of the planet remains at crisis levels for too many species — threatening extinction of bears, elephants, tigers, rhinos and a multitude of other species in too many parts of the world — rangers will continue to be threatened by the often well-organized and well-armed criminals and rebel groups behind this grim business.

On this the 11th World Ranger Day, July 31, please give pause for the brave men and women who protect our wild creatures and wild spaces. As well, do what you can to support these rangers and those families who have lost their loved ones in the line of service — every three days, a park ranger loses his life in the line of duty.

Organizations including The Thin Green Line Foundation and the International Ranger Federation work directly to support the tens of thousands of rangers working in parks globally and to build awareness of their contributions.

And in Mozambique, last year’s brutal attack on those holding the thin green line to protect wild rhino did not go unchallenged. The International Anti-Poaching Foundation immediately launched a campaign to assist the rangers. IAPF operates on the front lines of the world wildlife wars to protect some of the most endangered animals, including the rhino, by using military principles in training rangers to be the first and last line of defense for nature.

Working with the governments of South Africa and Mozambique, IAPF’s efforts along the South Africa-Mozambique border of Kruger National Park — home to 40 percent of the world’s remaining rhinos — have reduced losses dramatically and increased arrests of poachers.

At the same time, an increase of protected wilderness areas by almost 130,000 acres has occurred in Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Finally, for the first time since rhino were declared extinct in Mozambique in 2013, a resident population of approximately 25 rhinos has re-established itself in the country.

Little wonder poachers are hopping mad. Keep up the good effort, rangers!

— Maria Fotopoulos writes about the connection between overpopulation and biodiversity loss, and is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization, syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. Follow her on Twitter: @TurboDog50. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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