In November 2020, Corporal Joseph Ngeti, one of the longest serving community rangers working with Wildlife Works, a community-centered wildlife conservation company in Voi sub-county, was on a routine patrol in one of the project areas, when he was attacked by a rogue elephant.
He died on the spot. Less than a month later on 8th December, Ms. Jessica Njeri, a ranger from the same company, would also succumb to injuries she sustained after an enraged elephant attacked them while in a patrol vehicle.
The two fatalities are amongst three in Kenya and 75 in Africa, for rangers who lost their lives in the line of protecting wildlife and biodiversity between 2020 to date.
The deaths underscore the grave risks community rangers that operate in conservancies and ranches face daily as they work to protect wildlife outside the national parks.
Mr. Eric Sagwe, head of security at Wildlife Works, said the death of the two rangers two years ago robbed the conservation community of dedicated eco-warriors.
He added that community rangers are often exposed to multiple threats as they work to protect wildlife from multiple threats emanating from poaching, climate change and loss of biodiversity.
Noting that conservation work for rangers is prone to risks, Sagwe disclosed that community rangers have been undergoing intensive training on first aid and other lifesaving skills to curb loss of life from excessive bleeding and other severe injuries while in the field.
“We have invested heavily in training rangers on life-saving first aid emergency techniques they will use in case of an incident before help arrives. This is a critical part of skills needed to promote conservation and keep the rangers safe,” he said.
Meanwhile, as part of securing the welfare and lives of the rangers while in the field, plans are underway to roll out a comprehensive insurance cover for thousands of community rangers in conservancies across Kenya.
The move would elevate their roles and include them in the list of beneficiaries to receive due compensation in case of injuries or death.
Dickson Kaelo, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) says that through the help of International Rangers Federation, the conservancy rangers will be fully insured against the daily risks they face, during their course of work.
The CEO was speaking at Kasigau Ranch in Voi sub-county over the weekend during the celebration of rangers’ day.
He added that such incentives would bolster the morale of rangers and promote conservation efforts across the country, noting that rangers’ families will also be taken care of.
“The insurance scheme will ensure community rangers who are exposed to multiple risks daily as they do their work and are properly covered. Equally the scheme entails compensating them or their families should there be incidents that require such intervention,” said Mr. Kaelo.
Another plan is to launch rangers’ savings and credit cooperative society (sacco) to bring together all rangers working in conservancies and ranches in the country. This will promote savings and investment culture in the conservation sector.
There are 4,201 community rangers working in 160 conservancies in Kenya. Out of the total, there are 207 female rangers. While acknowledging efforts to include more female rangers in conservation, Mr. Kaelo said conservancies were actively working towards gender mainstreaming to boost women rangers in conservation.
However, one of the biggest challenges facing conservation efforts is the threat from climate change. Factors like prolonged drought, wildfires and increase in human-wildlife in regions neighboring protected areas have become more frequently requiring urgent intervention.
This has led to deaths of both livestock and wild animals with the Ministry of Wildlife data stating around 78 elephants have died in Tsavo Ecosystem from climate-change related challenges between 2020 and 2021
Mr. Kaelo said conservancies were embracing the carbon credit concept to diversify the revenue streams for improved conservation activities.
In Tsavo landscape, 14 conservancies out of the 33 members of Taita-Taveta Wildlife Conservancies Association (TTWCA) are under the carbon credit program. The others are in the process of joining this program.
African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) Country Manager Ms. Nancy Githaiga said creating synergies through rewarding partnerships was the future of conservation in Kenya.
Noting that communities’ rangers were critical in enhancing biodiversity outside the protected areas, she said there was need to equip and capacity build rangers as part of the process to make them ready to combat wildlife threats.
During the event, AWF donated a Land cruiser to be used by Rapid Response Unit in the conservancies to respond to emergencies across the entire Tsavo Landscape.
“The vehicle is to help promote conservation activities especially when responding to emergencies. This is how partnership should work,” she said.
Conservation partners present hailed the community rangers across the country for their dedication to work. They pledged to work closely to champion the conservation agenda in the region.
Ms. Beatrace Ndisha, project assistant in Tsavo with WWF Kenya, said collaboration was key to promotion of the conservation agenda. As a partner, WWF-Kenya has been paying salaries for rangers in Wushumbu and Mgeno conservancies in addition to providing critical equipment like fire-fighting gear and graders to combat fire outbreaks.
By Wagema Mwangi