Cameroon, 31 July 2023 - On World Ranger Day, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) honors the rangers who have been killed or injured while fighting against wildlife crime.
“Protecting the environment for the well-being of people – to me, this is the essence of living.”
Johnsen Oben, a ranger at a wildlife preserve in Cameroon, was speaking from the Garoua Wildlife School, where he was enrolled in a training – supported by UNODC and TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network – on preventing and addressing illegal wildlife crime.
In Cameroon, the well-being of communities is often deeply intertwined with the health of its environment. As the fourth most biodiverse country in Africa, Cameroon’s rich array of ecosystems and species undergird its economy, providing its people with food, income, protection against natural disasters, and more.
However, this abundance is in jeopardy, with declines in the extent of ecosystems and populations of species. Wildlife crime has contributed significantly to the problem.
“We have very lush, protected areas but very few rangers to protect them,” Johnsen said.
“So, most of the time, eco guards are in one part of the protected areas doing patrol, and in another part of the park, hunting is going on.”
Criminal networks have been quick to exploit these capacity issues, poaching some threatened and endangered species to the brink of local extinction.
Cameroon’s elephants, who are killed for their ivory, serve as a stark example. As the 2020 UNODC World Wildlife Report noted, 83.4 per cent of the elephants observed during aerial surveys in Cameroon were dead.
Such trafficking in wildlife can have severe implications for Cameroon’s human livelihoods, biodiversity, and governance.
“The life of the community is at stake, biodiversity is at stake, if actions are not taken,” Johnsen said.
Rangers serve on the frontlines of fighting against wildlife crime. In any one of Cameroon’s 42 protected areas, a ranger may be found monitoring wildlife, patrolling the terrain to prevent poaching, or helping communities to resolve human-wildlife conflicts.
The work puts them directly in the crossfire of poachers, some of whom belong to highly organized and dangerous crime groups. Over the last decade, around 1,000 rangers have died in the line of duty in Africa alone.
Yet because they are often the first on the scene after a wildlife crime, rangers play an instrumental role in managing, collecting, and preserving evidence.
Nestled in Garoua, a port city in the north of Cameroon, the Garoua Wildlife School has trained students in the conservation and management of wildlife and protected areas since 1970.
In tandem with the school, UNODC’s train the trainer programme is equipping rangers like Johnsen with skills to manage, collect, and preserve evidence on wildlife crime, such as illegal poaching of species like elephants, pangolins, rosewood, and more to be presented at court.
“The first responders need to be able to manage a crime scene without contaminating it,” said Johnsen. “They need to ensure that the chain of custody is maintained, so that by the time it is presented in court, no issues arise.”
Participants will then work to spread their newly gained skills to other rangers, law enforcement officers, and students.
“For me," said Soulemane Ntieche, another park ranger at Cameroon’s Benue National Park, “this project is the cherry on top of the cake. My conception of wildlife crime analysis is not the same as it was a year ago.
“I am born again as a park ranger,” Soulemane continued with a smile. “We will win the fight against wildlife crime.”