Tendai Rupapa Senior Reporter
ENVIRONMENTAL patron and Wildlife Ambassador, First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa, has paid glowing tribute to rangers who remain committed to duty despite the dangers of being attacked by the same wildlife they are protecting and the sophisticated networks of poachers using modern weapons.
She said this during the World Ranger Day commemoration where she was guest of honour.
The event was held at Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority head office in Harare.
World Ranger Day is celebrated on July 31 every year to commemorate the rangers who are injured or killed in the line of duty.
The First Lady started by inspecting the rangers parade where they also performed various drills.
Rangers, the First Lady observed, work under harsh conditions with high risks of falling victim to mosquito bites leading to malaria as well as tsetse bites exposing them to the possibility of contracting sleeping sickness.
In her speech, Dr Mnangagwa, who has a passion for tourism and conservation, said it was essential to pause, reflect and express gratitude in recognition of the dedication and sacrifice by some of nature’s devoted custodians.
“It is saddening to note that in the cause of protecting the world’s natural heritage some of the rangers sacrifice their precious lives as they are eliminated by some organised syndicates and militia groups coming in to illegally harvest our wildlife heritage,” she said.
“Despite the different backgrounds, beliefs, cultures and issues of sovereignty which set us distinctively apart as different countries, regions and continents, biodiversity conservation has universally brought us together into a global village.
“Through various multilateral environmental agreements, protocols and conventions, different countries have been joined together to adopt common approaches and practices in biodiversity conservation.”
Some continents, the First Lady said, had forged collaborations and togetherness through the formation of associations such as the Game Rangers Association of Africa.
“Globally all willing countries joined forces together to establish the International Rangers’ Federation which represents park rangers across the world,” she said.
“It is unquestionable that rangers continue to play a central, and multi-faceted role in the protection of both the habitat and wildlife heritage.”
Rangers, together with communities, the First Lady said, were the first line of defence against wildlife poaching and other wildlife crimes.
“However, it is worth understanding that these successes do not just come by easily without mishaps and setbacks on the part of our rangers,” she said.
“They work in remote areas, face the dangers of being attacked by the same wildlife which they are protecting as well as work under harsh conditions with high risks of falling victim to mosquito bites leading to malaria as well as tsetse bites exposing them to the possibility of contracting sleeping sickness.
“Even during the rainy season and under any weather discomfort, the rangers are there to ensure protected areas are safeguarded and patrolled without excuse or failure.
“It is important to recognise and acknowledge the excellent work of the rangers as well as appreciate and motivate them to tackle the numerous challenges they are exposed to during the call to duty.
“Zimbabwe is indeed endowed with a diversity of wild fauna and flora which undoubtedly places it well amongst respectable countries rich in natural resources.
“This status quo demonstrates the commitment and efforts of the Government and the people of Zimbabwe towards safeguarding the natural heritage.”
This achievement, she said, was made possible by ZimParks whose constitutional mandate was to protect and manage wildlife whilst listening to the voices of the yet-to-be-born generations not only for Zimbabwe, but the world at large.
“This world commemoration which was an initiative of the International Rangers Federation (IRF) and promoted by its official charity the thin green line foundation, set aside this day to commemorate those rangers the world over, who have lost their precious lives or have been maimed in the course of executing their duties,” said the First Lady.
“We are also happy to note that today’s event marks the 15 years of celebration since the first event which took place in the year 2007.”
This year’s theme for the World Ranger Day, she said, was centred on “diversity” emphasising that as people celebrate diversity in the natural world, they believed diversity amongst rangers should also be embraced.
“This reiterates that conservation work should not be regarded as a one size fits all in its approach, but should be inclusive of different practices in order to achieve holistic results,” she said.
“It is encouraging to note that the devastating global pandemic as a result of the Covid-19 virus which had almost brought the whole world to a grinding halt in terms of business has greatly slowed down despite some isolated cases being encountered here and there.
“We, however, need to remain vigilant and continue to demonstrate the selfless spirit and sacrifices that our rangers are known for in order to maintain the valuable gains of good conservation work.”
“In discharging its conservation mandate, Zimbabwe relies heavily on the good work and dedication by the field rangers who are the backbone of conservation.
“This success is also attributed to the Government support, support from our distinguished conservation partners, stakeholders, security agents, cooperative communities as well as collaborating neighbours at trans-boundary level.
“All these ingredients and commitments have enabled the country to witness a significant decline in the decimation of big game, especially elephants which has gone down by over 90 percent in the last three years.”
Rangers, said the First Lady, have been working hard as catalysts to realise the success of the programme by carrying out awareness outreach programmes and working closely with the communities including training them in many aspects of conservation work.
“Ladies and gentlemen, at this juncture let me hasten to take this opportunity to congratulate all rangers across the continental divide for the sterling job they are doing despite some challenges that they continue to encounter year in and year out in their work situations,” she said.
“Closer here at home once again colleagues join me in saluting our brave men and women of valour who are great ambassadors in preaching and practising living the gospel of biodiversity conservation.
“In conclusion, let me reassure you that all your good work in conservation will not go unnoticed as we continue to cherish our relationship with both our stakeholders and partners who render the much-needed support to enable us to move forward. Vana vangu makorokoto uye tinotenda nekushinga kwenyu. To our partners, do not tire, let us put our heads together and work as a team.”
Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu paid tribute to the mother of the nation for her intervention in raising awareness on conservation issues.
“We are very pleased as a ministry to have you take time from your busy schedule to join and lead in celebrating these very brave young men and women,” he said.
“I also wish to thank their families who provide them with the much-needed support.
“Not forgetting our stakeholders across the country who equally share with us the burden of supporting our rangers in their work primarily to protect our wildlife mainly from us humans. The international ranger federation was founded in 1992 with a large presence in the United Kingdom, US, Australia and has spread to Africa and other continents.
“Most of our rangers face real field situations where rangers are maimed or killed in line of duty. They face danger from some of the world’s most dangerous animals but also face danger from sophisticated poachers who sometimes use advanced weapons.
“In areas with wildlife, there are human-wildlife conflicts and these have been increasing mainly due to increasing wildlife populations and increasing human populations putting pressure on the habitat and the problem has been exacerbated by climate change which has also led to increased frequency of droughts.
“I know your excellency that you have in your duties come face-to-face with the problem of human wildlife conflict. As a mother you have initiated dialogue to find lasting solutions to these problems.”
ZimParks director-general, Dr Fulton Mangwanya, applauded Dr Mnangagwa for her commitment to wildlife conservation.
“This is evidenced by using your time and voice to attend to and address wildlife matters that are rampant in our country. Days are over when wildlife used to be perceived as voiceless and defenceless because the world now has people like you who are willing to lend their voices to wildlife,” he said.
Dr Mangwanya said there was no wildlife conservative to talk about in the absence of rangers, hence their recognition.
“Rangers are the steward and guardians of our wildlife, it is important that the world must understand the important duties of rangers,” he said.
“In Zimbabwe wildlife conservation and tourism are linked and our rangers play a key role in protection of the wildlife heritage. Rangers are the unsung heroes in wildlife protection and it is only fair that we recognise their efforts and sacrifice for this course.”
Several partners attended the event and presented their solidarity remarks.
Representing the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Mr Luckmore Safuli, said conservation was all about collaboration.
“As IFAW, our key focus areas include animal rescue, land conservation, law enforcement and community engagement,” he said.
“Our vision, working with the ZimParks is to create a safe environment for people and wildlife. We are also supporting rangers through training. We believe conservation is about collaboration.
“As IFAW we appreciate the critical role played by our brave rangers in defence of our treasured wildlife resources. We join the nation in saluting these brave men and women. We want to express our commitment as IFAW to nature and develop our partnership with ZimParks. We are here to stay and create safe spaces for our wildlife.”
Actor David Mubaiwa, known in acting circles as Sabhuku Vharazipi, and his team provided edutainment on wildlife conservation, illuminating the event.