Life of an African wildlife ranger: Tackling stealthy poachers, rapid urbanisation and charging lions

Life of an African wildlife ranger: Tackling stealthy poachers, rapid urbanisation and charging lions

In the wild

Text: Aravin Sandran

Rhino ranger Harrison Kamande of Nairobi National Park provides on-the-ground insight following WWF's recent Ivory Lane viral campaign

Rangers are often depicted similar to military personnel in videos and documentaries as well as in the way they are dressed. How would you describe the kind of strategies you use during a typical working day?

Our job starts with patrolling. We won't accomplish anything without patrolling. When we plan the patrols, we make sure the teams that are dispatched to the field are well-equipped with food rations, working rifles and protective clothing. We start at 4am and end at 4am the next day. We provide surveillance and monitor the animals for 24 hours. My ears have to be alert, in case there are any gun shootings. If there's an alert from the other teams, I need to act immediately. We operate like how military operations conduct their teams.

Have you had any encounters with wildlife?

I have faced several difficult situations. We were walking a bit into the bush and using our binoculars to identify a rhino. It was about 5:30pm in the evening. When all of a sudden, we heard a lion charging us. Fortunately, the driver ran away to the car because he was not armed. I was armed and I fired several bullets into the air to deter the lion from attacking me. The area was a bit rocky and I didn't have any chance of running back to the car. I had to be courageous enough to shoot in the air and send a loud warning signal to the lion. I could see the lion charging at me. 

Do local communities have a relationship with the park and its animals?

Local communities have been one of the pillars of conservation. They have coexisted with the park and its animals for all that time. However, because of urbanisation, we are facing difficulty convincing them to continue safeguarding the park instead of pursuing estate developments. Politics plays a part as well in ensuring the betterment of the environment. We're trying to ensure local communities can go on with their normal activities while preventing the displacement of wildlife in their areas.

Does ecotourism benefit conservation without being intrusive to the park?

Tourism is one of the main drivers of the Kenyan economy. We try to involve different sets of NGOs and other stakeholders to initiate some of these projects. We also consult with local communities and work closely with the local administration. Ecotourism offers plenty of benefits for the local community especially. We work together with them to ensure the wildlife are protected, so they can continue to reap the benefits.

Have you dealt with any poaching incidents so far?

In September 2013, I dealt with an aftermath of a poaching incident. It was the first poaching incident to be experienced in the park. We had to look into how it happened and who did it. We were able to find answers but we experienced another one. It was executed by a colleague who had resigned from the job. He knew the area well and how we operated. He was arrested and prosecuted by the police accordingly.

Do you think wildlife documentaries and television shows help the cause?

There are two points of view. On one hand, people have become more aware of the conservation efforts. On the other, they would find out the value of these rhino horns and find out the parks these animals reside in. That being said, these documentaries help educate and raise awareness on the importance of protecting wildlife for future generations.

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