Rangers and Conservation

Overview

Three rangers tend to a rhino on a sunny day in Kenya

Rangers, forest guards, and wildlife officers serve under various titles, but all are professionals involved in safeguarding and managing protected and conserved areas. There are many kinds of rangers. Some work for the government while others may be employed by their own local communities or serve as volunteers. According to the ranger survey Life on the Frontlines, around a third (36%) of rangers surveyed in 28 countries were from local communities within a 12-mile radius of where they work. Conservation could not happen without them. But what exactly does a ranger do?

Rangers are frontline conservation workers, playing a critical role in protecting and safeguarding biodiversity, natural and cultural heritage, and the rights and well-being of present and future generations. They not only serve the communities that live in and around protected and conserved areas but all of us who depend on the natural world for survival.

Beyond reacting to immediate threats to nature and biodiversity, rangers monitor wildlife and habitats, enforce wildlife and protected-area laws and community by-laws on the use of their land and resources, help reduce impacts of human-wildlife conflict, educate and raise awareness of the importance of conservation, and aid communities to preserve their cultural values associated with protected and conserved areas. Rangers’ work has become even more imperative as poaching and unsustainable and illegal activities are driving the loss of species, habitats, and natural resources.

Unfortunately, there are not enough rangers to respond to these growing threats and rangers are often unrecognized, under-appreciated, and under-resourced. And they often face poor and dangerous working environments which can undermine the effectiveness of their work. The ranger workforce needs to be responsible, representative, mandated, and recognized as professionally competent to effectively implement their duties as custodians of biodiversity and the life systems we all depend on. This can only happen in a globally enabling environment where they are properly valued, led, and supported by governments, non-governmental organizations, and ranger associations.

Rangers are a critical part of the larger conservation story. We cannot save the world’s most endangered species or protect its most vital places and the natural resources we all depend on without the crucial work done by these brave individuals.

Why It Matters

  • Protect nature and human health

    We’re losing biodiversity at an alarming rate, due to expanding human activities and climate change. Rangers increasingly are the first to observe and act to threats that jeopardize the health of nature and people. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of rangers in maintaining the balance between nature and humans. In their role as first responders, they may help to prevent future global pandemics.

  • Manage and monitor protected areas and conserved areas

    Rangers are one of the key foundations to successfully manage, protect, and maintain the integrity of protected and conserved areas. They help identify potential threats to biodiversity and species, collect data on wildlife, and work closely with communities to conserve these areas and natural resources. Rangers also defend against illegal wildlife activities like poaching, deforestation, and illegal fishing—some of the greatest threats to many of the world’s most endangered species. Rangers patrol, remove snares, and monitor wildlife and their habitat. A professional, competent, motivated, and responsible ranger workforce is pivotal to halting wildlife crime.

  • Support local communities and livelihoods

    State and government rangers can build local goodwill for protected and conserved areas by helping local communities to sustainably manage the natural resources and ecosystem services—the benefits that nature provides—that they depend on. However rangers also have a duty to respect and protect human rights in communities living in and alongside protected and conserved areas. Indigenous people and local communities are important stewards for nature and should be empowered, including through employment as rangers, to ensure traditional/cultural knowledge is maintained and applied to the management of these areas.

What WWF Is Doing

Ranger Liliana Alzogaray walks through tall grass in the Chaco on a cloudy day

Building relationships with local communities

Depending on the context, some rangers may come from a local community or work on behalf of a local or Indigenous community. Irrespective of the type of ranger, who employs them, or where they are from, mutually supportive and trusting relationships between rangers and communities are critical to maintaining the integrity of protected and conserved areas. Good relations with communities also make ranger work safer, reducing tensions and misunderstandings that can lead to clashes between rangers and local broader community members.

Dorn Bann (47), deputy head of Anlung Cheauteal River Guard Post stands in front of community members during a meeting

Guiding policy through the Universal Ranger Support Alliance (URSA)

URSA, an alliance of eight conservation organizations, including WWF, is the first of its kind in support of rangers. The alliance works to provide a unified voice for rangers everywhere and create global standards for capacity, employment, equality, and conduct. The coalition was established to support the implementation of the Chitwan Declaration, which called on non-governmental organizations and other conservation groups to act on a detailed list of needs and priorities for rangers. The Chitwan Declaration was agreed at the World Ranger Congress in November 2019 and signed by 550 Rangers from 70 countries representing members of more than 100.

WWF works with governments and communities who employ rangers to find opportunities to influence policy changes at the global, national, and regional level to implement standards and policies developed by URSA to protect rangers and ultimately enable rangers to do their job effectively and responsibly.

URSA developed an action plan that those working with rangers can adapt and use to support effective and responsible performance. The action plan includes the first-ever Code of Conduct for rangers, which both the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas reviewed. The Code provides a set of principles for behavior and proper practices s for the ranger workforce, as well as steps to help formalize the field to ultimately build and strengthen the reputation of the ranger profession.

Improving ranger welfare and working conditions

A large proportion of rangers around the world endure dangerous working conditions that threaten their health and safety and limit their ability and motivation to do what is asked of them. This is further exacerbated by budget cuts due to COVID-19, with nearly a third of rangers reporting negative impacts to their daily work as a result. Threats, violence, injury, disease, and death are not uncommon, and no fewer than 1,800 rangers lost their lives in the line of duty between 2009 and 2021, according to IRF’s Roll of Honour.

URSA members are working to develop occupational health and safety standards for rangers, with the next step being the adoption of those standards at the national level. Many rangers do their jobs without proper pay, contracts, equipment, or insurance. Requiring minimum standards for working and employment conditions will enhance ranger working conditions and well-being.

Bringing equity and equality in the ranger workforce

The majority of the ranger workforce does not have equity and equality in terms of gender balance and representation of Indigenous and local communities. According to the Life on the Frontline survey conducted in 28 countries, only 3% to 11% of the ranger workforce is female. The extent of Indigenous rangers and rangers from local communities and their working conditions is still unknown.

URSA aims to establish systems and structures that enable equal opportunities, fair treatment, and an equitable working environment for rangers. WWF worked with URSA members on creating the first comprehensive and global analysis of the challenges and opportunities for bringing gender equality into the ranger workforce.

Professionalizing the ranger sector

Rangers often lack training, support, and effective management, and a more professional ranger sector will improve the standing of rangers among decision-makers, communities, and the public. This will ultimately lead to improved resourcing, policies, support, and more effective management of protected and conserved areas. Some of the ways WWF is helping to professionalize the ranger workforce is through:

  • Developing a common framework with URSA for improving and sustaining ranger capacity and encouraging its widespread adoption and implementation.
  • Working with partners including ranger colleges, governments, and other non-governmental organizations to support the strengthening of ranger colleges to ensure the sustainable and long-term capacity building of rangers.
  • In Namibia, WWF and partners have developed a game guard recognition system that provides a standardized assessment process for its more than 600 community game guards—acknowledging and rewarding their work and skills. Community-based conservation, where communities are empowered to manage and benefit from their wildlife and other natural resources, is the cornerstone of WWF's work in Namibia.
  • Helping fund ranger training through WWF's Russell E. Train Education for Nature Program. For over two decades, more than 3,000 park rangers from more than 20 countries have received training support from this program.

Projects

  • Conserving Wildlife and Enabling Communities in Namibia

    Namibia is home to an array of wildlife, from ostriches and zebras roaming the gravel plains to penguins and seals chilling in the Atlantic currents. It was the first African country to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution. With WWF’s help, the government has reinforced this conservation philosophy by empowering its communities with rights to manage and benefit from the country’s wildlife through communal conservancies.

  • Wildlife Crime Technology Project

    Over four and a half years, the Google.org-funded Wildlife Crime Technology Project (WCTP) provided WWF a platform to innovate and test a number of innovative technologies, many of which have the potential to change the course of the global fight against wildlife crime.