PROTECTORS OF NATURE

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Nature is the mother of all creations on our earth. If not for nature, life on earth would have been unimaginable. The bright sunshine, the beautiful mountains, the showers of rain, and the tamed and wild animals, all are presents given by nature. We, humans, owe our very existence to Mother Nature, but we seem to disregard this indisputable fact and instead pollute and destroy our environment. When we, the humans, have a problem, there are so many people and authorities to inform and complain to, and so many people to help us. However, who do we remember first when an elephant is caught in an illegal power line, a deer is shot by a hunter, and a pair of tusks is cut and taken away from a tusker, or in an illegal forest fire? Here come the rangers, heroes of the wild.

A ranger looks after the natural world and helps to preserve it, such as a forest, or a park. A ranger’s work is vast and critical in maintaining the safety of our natural sources for the future. Around the globe, rangers are on the front line in the fight to protect our natural heritage. They are the eyes and ears of the forest, protecting the ecosystem and guaranteeing the security of our mother nature. They patrol protected areas, monitor wildlife, prevent poaching, engage with local communities in conservation, and help communities resolve human-wildlife conflicts. The task of a ranger is frequently arduous. Working as a ranger is dangerous as well. The lives of rangers are at risk because they are defending our animal and plant species from threats such as poaching. They struggle with adverse weather and heat exhaustion, armed poachers, tick and fly bites, and exposure to diseases. Moreover, most of the rangers frequently lack the resources and support they need.

World Ranger Day

Every year on 31 July the world honours the Rangers who have died or been hurt while performing their duties, and recognises the important work they do to preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the planet. The first World Ranger Day was celebrated on the 15th anniversary of the International Rangers Federation in 2007.  On World Ranger Day, we show our support for their valued job, moreover, the day salutes forest rangers who fearlessly carry out their duties to protect wildlife and celebrates the bravery of forest rangers who carry out their responsibilities to save animals and all other greenies.

Sri Lankan forest rangers are no less served than the ones mentioned above. Despite many hardships and limited resources, they also protect and preserve natural resources, monitor wildlife, and resolve human-wildlife conflicts. While attempting to prevent illegal construction, forest destruction, and poaching, some have died, and others have been injured. However, it is unfortunate that they are not as well respected as other professionals.

A series of interviews with wildlife rangers in Sri Lanka was planned by the Base for Enthusiasts of Environmental Science and Zoology (BEEZ) of the Faculty of Science, University of Colombo to commemorate the frontline heroes of the wild for their tremendous contribution to nature while celebrating World Rangers Day 2022. Wildlife Ranger (Mathale) N.T.P. Karunaratne, Wildlife Ranger (Grade 1) at Wildlife Wayamba Zonal Office Piyal Ravindra Kumara, Wildlife Ranger W.M.K. Wijekoon, and Wildlife Ranger (Lahugala) Kapila Ariyarathna, were interviewed, and their knowledge and experience were shared. The interviews focused primarily on rangers’ lives, responsibilities, and the threats they faced over the years.

Duties of a Ranger

“According to the Wildlife Protection Act, a forest ranger’s key duties include ensuring the safety of wild animals, safeguarding their homes, and conserving biodiversity”, stated Kumara. He also mentioned that some illegal organised groups have relationships with foreign countries and even carry out genetic robberies, which is another major challenge they face. Moreover, he said that constant training, research, and the use of new equipment and technology help them to perform their duties well.

Additionally, Ariyarathna listed the difficulties they encounter while carrying out their tasks, including attacks from wild animals, particularly wild elephants and water buffalo, dangers posed to their lives from highly organised poachers, injuries, and gun fires.

Wijekoon mentioned the qualifications required to become a forest ranger, he mentioned that one’s willingness to become a wildlife ranger is an important consideration. He went on to say that once the Government gazette is published, anyone who is interested can apply, and qualified candidates must go through a six-month training programme and as per Karunaratne with the increasing number of travellers these days, they must put a huge effort to clean those areas, and he reminded us to leave nothing behind when visiting forests. He also discussed some of the steps they had taken for the conservation of wildlife, the quantitative and qualitative census of plant and animal diversity, and public awareness campaigns, and he reflected on various fun and challenging memories he had during his tenure.

Along with the interview series, to celebrate World Ranger Day, BEEZ of the Faculty of Science, University of Colombo has organised a drawing competition for children as well as poetry and digital art competition that is open to everyone, named, ‘Frontline Heroes of The Wild’. All submissions will be reviewed by a panel of judges, and winners will be announced in the coming weeks. Winners will receive valuable prizes and certificates.

Our sincere appreciation and respect go out to all the brave rangers who risk their lives to protect and preserve nature. Cheers to World Ranger Day!

By Saduni Gunaratane