Superheroes without Capes

International Ranger's Day is a day dedicated to the unsung heroes who protect our fragile wildlife, natural treasures and cultural heritage. We salute you!

It is 3:00 a.m. on a cold, rainy night. Two men are walking in total darkness and hear movement in the bush only a few meters to their left. They stop and are motionless for what seems like an eternity, but is only about one minute. Their only protection is a two-barrel shotgun that is older than both their ages combined. Without speaking, they motion to each other to crouch and continue waiting. Is the sound a leopard hunting for its next meal or worse, poachers armed with automatic weapons? Are they tracking the female rhino and her calf, which the two Rangers have been following? Fortunately, for them, a civet bounces from the bush and is as startled by them, as they are of it.

International Anti-Poaching (c) Harrison Cooney

Anti-Poaching Rangers from around the world risk their lives every day to protect endangered species from some of the most ruthless humans on earth. Poachers have nearly endless resources, have firepower comparable to elite military commando units, and are backed by syndicates driven by greed, power and bank accounts equivalent to the mega-rich. Contrast that with low pay, antiquated guns and rifles, if any, extended absence from their families, fear of
reprisals to themselves and loved ones, and the constant reality they may not return from their latest patrol.

According to The Thin Green Line, an organization dedicated to helping improve the lives of Anti-Poaching Rangers around the world, more than 1,000 Rangers have lost their lives in the line of duty over the past 10 years. Sadly, all indicators point to the fact that the numbers will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. The death of every Ranger leaves a hole in the fabric of our society. That is especially true for the families and loved ones – wife, children,
mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and extended family – who remain. They have no safety net or insurance policy to collect, only a scary and uncertain future for the dependents they leave behind. The Thin Green Line Foundation offers a variety of services and assistance to both the Rangers and their families both living and deceased.

Mashatu Anti-poaching unit (c) Harrison Cooney

In March 2017 my youngest son, Harrison, and I spent three weeks in Southern Africa where he captured images of the men and women who helped protect rhinos from extinction. We were embedded with Anti-Poaching Rangers in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, and saw firsthand how these brave men live, work and eat in some of the most challenging work conditions on the planet. In spite of the challenges they face every day, to a person, they were among the happiest, content people we have ever met. They did not see their jobs as burdens, but an opportunity to protect all animals, not just those that are endangered.

Most of the issues at the heart of the poaching pandemic are based on greed, power and nearly incalculable sums of money. Although there are situations where subsistence plays a role, it is not what drives poaching worldwide. Instead, it is an organized crime on a global scale combined with the lack of political will in many countries, which continues to reduce endangered species in the wild at an alarming rate. Unchecked, scientists predict many species will be wiped out within a decade or sooner.

What can you do? First, support legitimate organizations who help improve the lives and working conditions of Anti-Poaching Rangers. Second, let policymakers and politicians know you believe conservation is a top priority and that laws and the judiciary must administer consequences and penalties that fit the crimes. Together, we can help protect and ensure the future of both the Rangers and the animals they protect.

Blue Canyon Team (c) Harrison Cooney

Mike Cooney and his son Harrison are devoted to bringing greater awareness to the plight of rhinos and other endangered species by recognizing the brave men and women who daily risk their lives to ensure the future of all species. For more information, go to https://www.thewildlifedefenders.org to learn more about their project. You can also contact Mike directly at mike@thewildlifedefenders.org