By Jane Okoth
Wildlife Works Rangers are on the frontline of our conservation efforts in 500,000 acres of dryland forest in the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project area. Here, we talk to Eric Sagwe, the Head of Security at the Kasigau project, who has been a member of the Wildlife Works team since 2002, to gain his perspective on the work our rangers do.
Hi Eric, thanks for joining us today. We’d love to hear more about what your job entails! Perhaps you can describe a typical day for a Wildlife Works ranger?
A typical day for a Wildlife Works ranger starts as early as 5.30am where the rangers will take a shower, have breakfast and be ready for their morning debrief from 6.30am to 6.45am. The debrief is a security debrief administered by a ranger in charge of that particular camp. After the debrief, they will decide on which areas to conduct their patrols, be it by foot or car patrol. Most of our ranger camps are equipped with vehicles, but we still conduct foot patrols. During the foot patrols, the ranger teams are ferried to a target area where they will start patrolling and then meet later with the vehicle at a certain point.
During the patrol, Wildlife Works rangers are equipped with GPS, cameras and handheld radios used in monitoring and recording different species and wildlife such as elephants, antelopes and bird species. The data collected on a daily patrol varies; the biodiversity data which helps in monitoring wildlife, and the law enforcement data. The latter involves information on poaching, encroachment in the project area, as well as issues of interfering with animal habitat such as charcoal burning, logging, snaring, and other illegal activities. If a ranger encounters anyone doing any of these activities, depending on the severity of the offence committed, they are either given a warning or apprehended and booked to the police.
What is the ultimate goal for the Wildlife Works rangers?
Our ultimate goal for Wildlife Works rangers is to have all members of the community understand our conservation efforts. We want them to understand what we are doing and why wildlife and other species need to be protected. Our ultimate goal is to also have zero poaching and the zero habitat destruction in the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project area.
How are rangers trained/organized to work at the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project?
As the Head of Security, in collaboration with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), I identify the most vulnerable areas whereby destruction and poaching is more common. We operate by placing rangers in different camps on strategic hotspots areas which are perceived to be the exit routes for poachers.
And in terms of training for the rangers?
The training received by Wildlife Works rangers is very intensive and comprises of the following
Basic training: For the first three months when a ranger joins Wildlife Works, he/she is trained on how to cope with life in the bush, the history of the company conservation journey, as well as introduction to life at the Kasigau Corridor. This includes training on understanding animal behaviour, how to conduct patrols, parade, drills, how to address human rights concerns, and customer service, among others.
After they have familiarized themselves with what a job as a ranger entails, they then have an intensive training on first aid and bleeding control. The rangers are also taught everything about hot pursuits, for example following up on gunshots reported in the project area, checking on snares, as well as investigating a wildlife death. On cold pursuits, they are trained on how to report on instances of illegal logging, charcoal burning, etc. On other occasions where we have further training that require experts, we seek the services of Kenya Wildlife Service.
Explain more about the “No Guns policy” and why you think it’s important?
The “No Guns policy” is one of the most effective methods that has worked for Wildlife Works rangers.
Wildlife Works is working with members of the community. Most of the rangers come from the community around here and we don’t want to put them into conflict with their immediate relatives and family members. By arming them, you are arming them against their own members of the community. This means we will not have the privilege of getting informants who are mostly from the community. When you use arms against a community member, it will cause conflict as well as pose as a security threat to rangers when they are having their day off from work or doing their normal leave. The no guns policy is keeping us safe because we are not being targeted by poachers. In the event where we require reinforcements, we partner with Kenya Wildlife Service, the national wildlife authority to apprehend them.
What has been some of your greatest achievement in the project area so far (or some, rather than just one)?
Our greatest achievement in the project so far has been is the realization of the promises given to members of the community in many different areas of our work.
Firstly, in job creation- when I joined Wildlife Works, we were only 16 rangers, as of now, the number of rangers has gone up to nearly 100. Security guards have been employed and there are now 24. We also have 12 community scouts coming from members of the community who are in charge of protecting hills in the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project that were previously not previously protected.
Secondly, in protection of the ecosystem- the issue of charcoal burning in the project area has drastically gone down thanks to support from Wildlife Works management. Before the REDD+ project, we were operating with only one vehicle, which has now increased. The issue of commercial poaching with people using sophisticated weapons has drastically gone down in the project area. For the past 3 years, we have not had any reports of gunshots within the project area. The forest canopy has also greatly improved and became intact thanks to the regular patrols conducted by our rangers.
Lastly, uncontrolled grazing has gone down thanks to ranchers getting revenue from the carbon revenue. The ranchers have now started rearing their own livestock while reducing illegal herding and therefore overgrazing. This has led to improvement of ranches which has seen an increase of trees in the project area.
Is there more awareness for conservation now than before in the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project?
Yes, there is more awareness for conservation because when the carbon project started, it was a new thing and we had challenges explaining it to the community. Thanks to our community outreach team, there have been sensitization programs conducted to the community, educating them on REDD+ and the importance of conservation and the need of protecting forests. The information to members of the community has been increased and they now understand the project well and a good number of them now understand what is really happening.
Wildlife Works has also been issuing bursaries to children coming from vulnerable communities being able to complete their education. When these kids go home, they will be preaching the gospel of conservation because once you conserve forests, you reap fruits of education.
What would you want the world to know about rangers?
I would want the world to know the following about rangers:
Dedication- the rangers are very dedicated and willing to work under very extreme climatic conditions.
Sacrifice- to be a ranger, you have to sacrifice a lot about yourself like conducting long patrols, staying in the bush for long periods of time, and not being able to see your family members as frequently as you would wish to.
Training- Wildlife Works have acquired a lot of training needed for their job, and continue to grow during further training.
Any closing remarks?
I would like to thank the management at Wildlife Works for the support the rangers are getting at the moment. In terms of mobility, we have received vehicles, which are all in good condition enabling us to conduct our patrols in the project area well, as well as looking into the welfare of rangers.