Why Bear Grylls is urging us all to pull together for the sake of wildlife on World Ranger Day

Why Bear Grylls is urging us all to pull together for the sake of wildlife on World Ranger Day
The adventurer is launching a new initiative to support Africa’s frontline heroes. Sarah Marshall reports.

He’s an adventurer accustomed to death-defying situations, but adventurer Bear Grylls admits he thought his time might be up on a trip to the East African bush.

“I’ve never been so scared in my life,” he shudders, recalling the moment a boa constrictor gripped hold of him during filming for Netflix production Animals On The Loose.

“Once they wrap around you, you can’t breathe. If it takes you down, you’re in big trouble.”

The incident joins a catalogue of close shaves experienced by the survivalist during filming and training missions in Africa. But it pales in comparison to the challenges faced by the continent’s wildlife rangers on a daily basis.

As an ambassador for conservation charity Tusk Trust, Grylls is promoting a new fundraising initiative to support rangers across Africa at a time when resources are scarce and the threat of bushmeat poaching is higher than ever before.

Launched on World Ranger Day (July 31), the Wildlife Ranger Challenge (WRC) will bring together 150 teams of rangers from 20 African countries to participate in a series of mental and physical competitions, followed by a 21km half marathon on September 18. Members of the public are invited to sponsor teams or raise funds by taking part themselves at home.

“If I have learnt anything it is that in times of crisis we need to pull together,” says Grylls, who appreciates everyone has been impacted by lockdowns. “I hope we emerge as a kinder, humbler, more united world”.

Reflecting on his work for Tusk, the 47-year-old says: “I’m so proud to be in the Tusk Trust family, helping spread the positive message of wildlife conservation and protecting the indefensible… And huge respect to all you rangers taking part out there. Truly, you’re amazing.”

Working on the wildlife frontline during a pandemic

Two rangers from popular tourist parks reflect on the difficulties they are currently facing.

Benson Kanyembo, Winner of the 2019 Tusk Ranger Of The Year AwardWhere: South Luangwa, Zambia

It’s been an exhausting couple of years for law enforcement advisor Benson Kanyembo. Since recovering from Covid, he’s been working around the clock to protect a park the size of Cyprus.

“As rangers we are working without rest because of less safari activity in the park,” he says, lamenting the lack of international tourists. He believes Covid-19 is “one of the biggest challenges facing scouts on the frontline”, who are often forced to spend weeks away from their families due to reduced manpower as others fall sick and salaries are cut.

At time when spirits are low, Kanyembo keeps his team motivated by encouraging them to do sports, providing counselling and giving families the opportunity to go on game drives “to appreciate their spouse’s work environment”. He is also training a team for the WRC with a gruelling workout, involving “insanity workouts. push ups, sit ups, frog jumps and running with backpack weighing 22kgs”.

Amos Gwema, Winner of the 2020 Tusk Ranger Of The Year AwardWhere: Hwange, Zimbabwe

Only a handful of local tourists can currently be found in Zimbabwe’s largest national park, where revenue streams have almost dried up. “Big game poaching is low, but animals are being killed through snaring,” complains principal intelligence wildlife officer Gwema, who has been working hard to find new ways to engage communities.Using drama and poetry as tools to communicate the importance of protecting wildlife, his new project, Community Action for Wildlife Conservation, has been well received. But it hasn’t been easy.“The community is on my side in terms of conservation, but I am lacking funds,” he complains. “It is difficult for me to continue with the project and at the same time it is difficult for me to stop the project. Right now I am nowhere, I don’t know what to do.”

For more information of the Wildlife Ranger Challenge, supported by Tusk, NATURAL STATE and the Scheinberg Relief Fund, visit wildliferangerchallenge.org or follow #ForWildlifeRangers.