There are a few callings out there that deserve the spotlight its needs and none more deserving of the attention as that of a wildlife ranger. Hot from the World Wildlife Federation's sneaky ivory campaign, Harrison Kamande, a patrol leader for the Kenya Wildlife Service in Nairobi National Park, was in Singapore recently to highlight the advocacy work the WWF and his team are doing for the preservation of black rhinos and variety of species.
From the dangers of poaching, the threat of urbanisation and the weighted responsibility of ensuring the black rhino population doesn’t dip, Kamande took time to answer a few questions about his job.
How did you get involved with the rangers?
Growing up, I took on a lot of responsibility in the household, caring for my siblings as my parents worked in various jobs. As a reward, my mum gave me three rabbits to care for. This prepared me with the skills needed to do what I do today, which is protecting wildlife. When the opportunity came to be a ranger, it was an honour as [that same protection of] wildlife has always been a passion. In a way, my personal journey that started with rabbits has now taken me to the rhinos.
Is there more awareness for conservation now than before?
I believe there has to be awareness about conservation because we, as humans, are first to experience the impact of not protecting wildlife and nature. When we build roads through habitats or destroy forests, we are not just losing wildlife but the ecosystem services that these habitats provide, such as food and water.
What, in your opinion, is the biggest detriment to what you do and how can one counter it?
People that buy and sell illegal wildlife products as symbols of wealth or for consumption as food may not realise that their actions have very real consequences. To pay for every wildlife product sold, an animal will be killed—and at times rangers too.
Illegal wildlife trade is not a Singaporean problem; it is not a Kenyan problem. It is a problem we all share. In Africa, wildlife is being poached to the brink of extinction, for consumption in markets like China. These shipments of illegal wildlife goods are brought all around the world and transit through countries like Singapore.
What’s a day in the life of a park ranger?
I wake up at 4am to prepare for the day by starting a fire to make my breakfast. From 5-6pm, the rangers do, what’s known as, a “call up” where we get updates from the other rangers on the night patrol teams. Then, at 6.30am, we plan the patrol routes for the teams and set out for our morning patrol. We usually do this in teams of two or three and cover about 15 kilometres on foot for the patrol. During the patrol, we track the rhinos, recording their known positions and ensure that every single one of them is accounted for.
We take a short break back at the base camp for lunch and set out again for the afternoon patrol. During the afternoon patrol, we track down the rhinos once more as they may have moved since the morning. We also do data gathering on the rhinos, recording information such as their behaviour and locations. This information is consolidated on a daily basis and helps inform the work of rhino researchers.
What about dangers in your line of work?
There is a lot that rangers have to face. In the course of protecting wildlife, rangers stand between poachers and their profits. If poachers see rangers, they will eliminate them. Many [of us] have been caught in crossfires, and many have lost their lives as a result. [These are the real] fallen heroes. Rangers also risk getting attacked or killed by the very animals we protect. I wish we can talk to the animals and tell them that we are on their side.
Having been in this line of work for the longest time, do you feel optimistic or cynical?
I am optimistic because as a ranger I have seen the worst but also the best of humans. I believe that when agencies and governments cooperate, and people around the world do their part to not consume illegal wildlife products, we can put a stop to the trade.
Was there a moment that stood out for you?
There are many, and the highlights are always when we see the rhino population numbers in Nairobi National Park [climb]. This is a hard-earned outcome, the result of years of hard work protecting the rhinos every single day.
For more information on Kamande’s work and how you can help with the conservation efforts, visit this link.