By Jane Okoth
Early mornings and evenings are usually the peak times for wildlife activity. Jessica Njeri, a Wildlife Works ranger, is ready to begin her daily patrols by 5 am. The nature of their patrols can be either by car or foot. After a day of different sightings, they will all return to report their wildlife sightings and other findings with their team leader in the late evening. Jessica is part of the 100+ ranger team who patrol the 500,000 acres of dryland forest in the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project area.
Born in a family of 8 in a remote village called Kisimenyi, Jessica had a love for wildlife and dreamt of working for Kenya Wildlife Service. Before joining the Wildlife Works ranger team, she worked for Africa Network for Animal Welfare, a non-governmental organization dealing with wildlife and educating the community on conservation. “I was tasked with collecting data on wildlife sightings in Kasigau ranch,” she says. It was during that time that she learnt of a ranger recruitment exercise happening at Wildlife Works head offices in Maungu. “I immediately submitted my application and was among the lucky few to be shortlisted for the interview,” she recalls. With her passion and knowledge about wildlife, Jessica won the hearts of the interviewees and officially joined the ranger team at Wildlife Works in June 2017.
Since joining Wildlife Works, 31-year-old Jessica has become part of the valuable team that is tasked with the responsibility of protecting the Kasigau Corridor. With the key aspect being protecting wildlife and landscape, Jessica and her team record animal sightings and take pictures of different species in their location. At the end of every month, they compile all their findings and send them to the monitoring team in the biodiversity department.
While out on regular patrol, Jessica and her team look out for illegal activities, such as logging or charcoal production, which destroys animal habitat. In the case of any suspicious activity, they will be notified by the aerial surveillance team. If the rangers come across a poacher or a charcoal burner, they take pictures, destroy the charcoal kiln, note the arrestees and their contacts. Unlike regular law enforcement, Wildlife Works rangers have a different approach when it comes to apprehending poachers or charcoal burners.
“Instead of being confrontational, we focus on educating first time offenders on the importance of conservation before sending them off with a warning,” Jessica explains. Wildlife Works’ no-gun policy has also made it easier for rangers to collaborate with communities in the Kasigau Corridor. “It is important to engage local communities because they can be a good source of information when it comes to reporting poachers and illegal loggers,” she explains. When an offender repeatedly continues to ignore their warning by cutting trees or harming wildlife, Wildlife Works partners with Kenya Wildlife Service, the national wildlife authority, to apprehend them.
Jessica has additionally gained skills and knowledge when conducting foot patrols, as well as studying the different species of wildlife in the project area. As well as other rangers in her team, she has attended further training in first aid and bleeding control through LEAD Ranger.
Jessica is now the breadwinner in her family thanks to her stable job and salary at Wildlife Works. “I am planning to sponsor my younger brother through his education and start a business someday,” she concludes, “I love my job and attribute my success to the support we get from our patrol team leaders”.
The rangers’ work is critical to the Kasigau project, and Wildlife Works is pleased to have dedicated rangers like Jessica.
Sadly, Jessica tragically passed on 8th December 2020. We will continue to honour her and other selfless rangers across the globe who have lost their lives protecting what they treasured most. Once again, Wildlife Works sends our heartfelt condolences to the grieving families as they struggle to rebuild their lives after this huge loss.