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SOS Rhino : In the News : Rangers on front line

Rangers on front line


March 30 2003
By Melissa Marino

When John Makombo and Dharanidhar Boro go to work, they go knowing they could be killed.

Mr Makombo, the chief ranger at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, has been shot at several times and carries a gun for self-defence.

Two weeks ago, Mr Boro was forced to fire on a group of men who had shot at his party as it patrolled the Kaziranga National Park, in India's north-east.

Two of the men were killed. The other two fled into the forest. The men were poachers, hunting rhinoceros in the park.

Poachers are a problem in national parks that are home to endangered species and Mr Boro and Mr Makombo are there to stop them.

Mr Boro uses 250 staff and 30 elephants to help patrol his 475-square-kilometre national park at the foothills of the Himalayas, home to the endangered one-horned rhinoceros and Bengali tiger.

As chief ranger at Bwindi, Mr Makombo is responsible for 350 of the world's remaining 600 mountain gorillas, whose babies sell on the black market for more than $US1000 ($A1664).

Poachers kill whole families of gorillas to snatch a baby, so Mr Makombo must be vigilant to ensure the species' numbers aren't depleted further.

It's a far cry from the challenges faced by rangers in Australia, but the pair are here to share experiences at the International Ranger Federation's Fourth World Congress held at Wilsons Promontory National Park last week. Jo Hopkins, a congress organiser, said while the 220 rangers from 42 countries at the congress worked in very different environments, they shared similar concerns - particularly in managing visitors in parks and conserving the natural habitat.

Andy Nixon, ranger in charge at Warrandyte State Park and former Victorian Rangers Association president, said Australia presented its own challenges.

"I don't want these guys getting all the glory," he said. "Us Aussie rangers have to deal with some pretty fierce wombats... and we've got marauding school children."

Mr Nixon said it was an inspiration to meet Mr Makombo and Mr Boro.

"They deal with amazing conflicts, difficult social conditions at times, so what they do with far less resources than we have is amazing... I don't have to put my life on the line each day," he said. "A lot of rangers do die every year around the world in the protection of our wild places."

The congress was not just about comparing experiences. Two resolutions from it will be taken to the UN's World Parks Congress in South Africa later this year. One is to improve safety for rangers like Mr Makombo and Mr Boro.

Mr Makombo said that while he carried a gun, the best deterrent against poaching was education.

"I don't want to use the gun, I want to use the mouth so all of us can understand what conservation is," he said.

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