Former Ranger and Founder of The Thin Green Line F oundation
I’d been working as a wildlife ranger in Australia for years when I attended an international ranger conference and got a severe reality check. A bunch of us were sitting around a fire, sharing beers and trading tales, when one ranger from Malawi pulled back his hair and showed a machete wound he’d received at the hands of a poacher. Then a guy from the Congo rolled up his sleeve to reveal a bullet hole. The following day that same ranger gave a presentation that included a group photo of around 30 rangers. About four or five of their heads were circled. I figured that these rangers had died doing their job, but he explained that those were the rangers who were still alive. About 180 rangers had been killed in that one national park in the past
15 years. That just floored me.
The next year I sold my house and car and spent 12 months travelling the world meeting rangers. I saw firsthand how the role of the ranger isn’t given much respect in a lot of countries. As a result, many rangers aren’t kitted out with adequate equipment to do their jobs safely. I’ve met rangers who’ve headed out on patrol for a month at a time without wet-weather gear, mosquito nets or appropriate footwear. If they were injured there’d be no compensation. If they died their families would be on their own.
I wanted to make a film that would raise money for their cause and awareness of their situation. I eventually raised about $ 9,000, but when I then went to donate the money I realised there wasn’t a charity I could give it to. If I was going to help rangers and the families of those who’d fallen, I was going to have to set one up myself. I founded the Thin Green Line Foundation three years later.
Approximately a thousand rangers have died on the job in the past 10 years. Of these, around 70 per cent have died at the hands of poachers. The Thin Green Line works to ensure those rangers out in the field are able to do their job as safely as possible. We get them gear that will see them through and train them in proper anti-poaching and patrol techniques. Whether a ranger has been murdered, killed by an animal, perished in a fire or suffered a heart attack, we work to support their family. It’s about extending them respect. While many of us will head out on holiday hoping to see wildlife, few of us consider those whose work ensures there remains wildlife to see.
We learn, on average, of three ranger deaths per week. The work takes an emotional toll – I’ve lost good friends. You learn to dissociate, but every now and then a story really hits you. Most recently, this was the story of Ranger Afram. He was a Pakistani ranger getting paid about $ 20 a month to protect the community forest. He was out on patrol one day when he came across some timber poachers. When he told them to leave, the poachers offered him a month’s salary to turn a blind eye. He declined that, and so they upped their offer to two months’ salary. Then three months. Then six. They offered a guy who lived in a tent with his family half a year’s wage just to walk away.
When he declined that the men shot and then decapitated him.
Reading about Ranger Akram reduced me to tears. Personally, I wish that he had walked away. But I do have to respect his decision and his integrity. Here was a guy who would not walk away, and that’s because he was proud of what he did.
Every ranger I’ve ever met has a sense that they stand for something bigger than themselves. And they do. Rangers look after entire ecosystems. They look after life. Personally, I can’t think of a more honourable profession.
“WHILE MANY OF US WILL GO ON HOLIDAY HOPING TO SEE WILDLIFE, FEW CONSIDER THOSE WHOSE WORK ENSURES THERE REMAINS WILDLIFE TO SEE.”
• Wilson’s Promontory National Park, Victoria, Australia, where Wilmore was a ranger for many years. • The Thin Green Line is headquartered in South Melbourne, Australia.