Wildlife rangers across Africa are continuing to protect animals and reserves despite the coronavirus pandemic, conservationists have said.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has released images of rangers at two projects it supports in Kenya and Zimbabwe continuing their work to look after threatened wildlife such as elephants.
But, because of Covid-19, they are not able to return to their homes and families between their shifts, while a lack of tourism has had a huge impact on local communities and economic pressure has increased the risk of poaching.
Rangers still hard at work include Team Lioness, eight women working to protect wildlife from poachers and safeguard people from conflicts with elephants and other animals in community lands that surround Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, on the border with Tanzania.
IFAW warned that hotels and lodges in the park have closed, incomes have dried up and there is a growing temptation to poach to provide food for families and for economic gain.
That has pushed up the risks for the female rangers, who also cannot see their children or the rest of their families, but some of whom are the only remaining breadwinner.
Community ranger Ruth Sikeita said: “I look after wild animals, providing security for the wildlife.
“It’s important because animals are like us, they need to be safe like us. They benefit us, tourists visit here because of the wild animals and we are employed.”
And at the IFAW-supported Panda Masuie Release Project in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, rangers are continuing to help a herd of 14 rescued and rehabilitated elephant orphans which are learning to live as wild animals.
The project aims to help young elephants slowly integrate with wild herds in what is now a protected forest reserve, but had once been used for hunting.
Handlers looking after individual elephants and forestry rangers who protect the animals and prevent them coming into conflict with local communities have been on site for up to eight weeks without a break, and are not expecting one soon.
But the long quarantine ensures their health and they are not currently having to wear protective gear, IFAW said.
The forest reserve has not been exempt from the economic pressures brought on by the pandemic and has seen an increase in the number of poaching-related activities.
Neil Greenwood, IFAW’s regional director, Southern Africa, said: “IFAW believes in the importance of rescuing and protecting individual animals as well as whole populations so this is a vital project which continues to provide daily care and protection, despite the challenges of the global pandemic.”
Jos Danckwerts, project manager at the Panda Masuie release site, said: “It’s impossible to put this kind of rehabilitation work on hold – it simply can’t be interrupted.
“Every day sees each individual take one step closer to living their lives as a free-roaming elephant.
“The handlers are selfless in their commitment, better still they can do their work knowing the elephants are secure and all thanks to the forestry rangers. It’s a remarkable team effort.”
The Panda Masuie Release Project is helping its staff cope in different ways, including building a small bush chapel and extending the vegetable garden for them to tend in downtime.