How times have changed! Let’s glimpse at a few of these changes in the Game Ranging profession starting off in the 60’s. Many of the rangers employed were former policemen or military men. A standard 6 was the minimum requirement, but higher standards were preferred. All were deemed to be tough men and whether they were or not when they started, they soon were. Transport, if you were lucky, was on horseback, if not it was on foot. Often you were shown an area in the reserve, given a bag of nails, a hammer and some corrugated iron, and told to build your own house. Newbie’s were told to report to the reserve on a specific date and time and often spent the next few days sitting outside the Officer-in-Charge’s office until he could be bothered to meet the new comer.
Anti poaching patrols were often violent affairs between rangers and white poachers including magistrates and policemen. But, before these clashes came to the fore the rangers spent days’ and nights lying in wait for them. Communications between field patrols and the reserve office were often nonexistent bar by using a runner. Many a ranger died unnecessarily because of poor communications and lack of transport.
River patrols were done in canoes sleeping wherever the urge took you. River water boiled in a Billy can over an open fire for tea and mealie-meal, was deemed ‘luxury camping’. A sleeping bag or blanket with a back pack as a pillow was placed on the hard ground next to the fire which became the field ranger’s home away from home. Often the only protection from rain was found below a leafy tree whilst sitting under a broad brimmed field hat ensconced on the head to act as an umbrella.
Rangers and game guards respected each other and both were equally terrified of the Officer-in-Charge and senior staff. The respect between rangers and guards was often formed from difficult and dangerous encounters, both from poachers and animals. They worked side by side, slept in the same ‘campsites’, shared their food, and as a rule the rangers learned a huge amount of field craft from the guards.
The extremely difficult conditions of the 60’s gradually waned through the decades as more money and better equipment became available until what we have today. So what do we have today? Anyone, male or female, can become a ranger as long as they have the minimum of a National Diploma in Nature Conservation. A Bachelor of Science (BsC) degree will ensure that you will start higher up the rung and a MsC or PhD places you in a comfortable position in the head Office’s Ivory Towers. Rangers are no longer what they were and to ensure rapid advances through the ranks a political head will take you a long way! Usually you are driven to your new reserve and placed in a brick house with ablutions and running water. Transport is provided either in 4 x 4’s, quad bikes or motor bikes. Almost every ranger has his own radio or, depending on seniority, a reserve cell phone. Work still commences early but morning tea times, lunch and afternoon teas are a prerequisite and no ranger may work longer than 7 ½ hours per day. Should they have to work longer, overtime must be paid. If the weather is inclement patrols are postponed until the weather improves. Should, by some strange twist of fate, an overnight patrol be deemed necessary, nylon tents, gas cookers, bottled water, pre-packed food and roll-up mattresses are stashed in the 4 x 4 to be dropped off at the designated campsite.
River patrols are still conducted – no longer in canoes, but rather on jet skies or should the river be deep enough, in motorized boats.
Field rangers (game guards) get very well paid, uniforms, housing, medical aid and pension – but they still strike for more. To be a field ranger is deemed by their communities to be an elevated position warranting respect. And yet statistically they are often the people who are implicated in poaching, and even worse still in rhino and elephant poaching.
A huge negative associated with these good working conditions is that young men and women are joining conservation organisations for the perks and NOT for the wildlife which is entrusted into their care. Misconduct is rife and with the stringent Disciplinary Codes it is virtually impossible to get rid of anyone and accused‘s can spend years on full pay, sitting around at home waiting for their hearing date to come. The clever wrong doers ensure that when their hearing arrives their witnesses don’t. Postponement = more home time of full pay!
Sadly the ‘good-old-days’ where people joined conservation organisations for their love of wildlife has gone! Today people look at these organisations and say “What can I get out of it” and not “What can I put into it”?
Nigel Anderson – guide for African Insight