Staff and students from the University of Sussex have launched a crowd-funding campaign to equip wildlife rangers with potentially lifesaving equipment, having just returned from a fieldtrip to Malawi.
The group from the School of Life Sciences were shocked to discover that rangers employed in Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve were conducting night patrols on foot without torches.
The reserve is home to hundreds of elephants and hippos, as well as other precious wildlife.
Rangers work tirelessly to protect these animals, while also keeping staff who monitor them, and visitors safe. They are at constant risk of encounters with poachers, snakes and scorpions, but with average salaries in Malawi reaching less than £2.50 a day, there’s no resource to equip them properly.
Fiona Mathews , Professor of Environmental Biology, set up the crowdfunding campaign. She said: “These rangers are literally risking their lives every single night to protect both wildlife and people.
“They do such an incredible job but it was shocking to see just how poorly equipped they are, due to a lack of financial resource; Malawi is one of the poorest countries on earth.”
The campaign aims to raise £3000 so that each ranger can be provided with a head torch, estimated to cost around £65, and solar recharging equipment.
They also want to supply ultra-violet torches, costing around £30 each, which will enable rangers to check their tents for scorpions, which glow bright blue under UV light.
Scorpion stings are the main reason why bush excursions by rangers have to be abandoned. There are also extremely dangerous snakes active at night, and no anti-venom in the whole of Malawi. So the small action of providing torches to use in camps would really make a difference to keeping rangers safe.
Professor Mathews said: "This is the first time we’ve taken students to Malawi. The site we visited, which was established and run by African Bat Conservation , was stunningly beautiful. The students loved it, and were keen to help the local community."
Georgie Harding, a final-year undergraduate student, said: "Rangers are doing vital work to protect animals posed with extreme threats from poachers. Without head-torches they face potentially fatal dangers at night. Donations to our campaign will go directly towards the purchase of torches taken directly to Vwaza Nature Reserve.”
Professor Mathews added: “The sad recent news that a British soldier, working with anti-poaching teams in Malawi, was killed by an elephant just emphasises how dangerous working with wildlife can be.
“It also reveals how brave local park rangers have to be. Many are killed each year and we never hear about it.
“Although we tend to focus on the risks to rangers from armed poachers, elephants and hippos can be just as dangerous. When you are out in the bush they can suddenly appear out of nowhere.
"Whoever came up with the phrase ‘you sound like a herd of elephants’ had obviously never met one - they are often almost silent and in the dark it is very easy to wander unwittingly into a herd.
"Sadly, we live in an age where we desperately need rangers to look after wildlife and defend against poachers - but they should be properly equipped. We’re really hoping we can do our bit to help the rangers continue protecting wildlife - as well as themselves."
At the time of writing, the campaign has already reached £1000 in donations, and the team hope to reach their £3000 target.
To donate to the campaign, please visit: www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/lightsonpoaching?utm_term=8pg4xj4Q4
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By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Friday, 10 May 2019