Sunday is United Nations World Wildlife Day, with much celebration of the elephant and rhino, the parrot and pangolin, and the marine life that is this year’s UN focus. It’s also a day to remember the wildlife defenders who risk and too often lose their lives in the fight against poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking.
The deaths of wildlife and environmental defenders are documented by the Global Witness NGO, through an ambitious project in partnership with The Guardian. Last year on the African continent, they included Théodore Kasereka Prince, one of six park rangers who died at Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in an armed militia attack. Three others also died there in 2018.
In South Africa, ranger Respect Mathebula was shot and killed by poachers in Kruger National Park last July. Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Mali – all told, there were 63 African wildlife rangers known to be killed by assailants in the year ending July 2018, according to the Game Rangers Association of Africa.
In Kenya, 76-year-old Esmond Bradley Martin, a champion of wildlife protection and leading world expert on the illegal ivory trade, died in February 2018 when he was stabbed in his home. “Esmond was one of conservation’s great unsung heroes. His meticulous work into ivory and rhino horn markets was conducted often in some of the world’s most remote and dangerous places,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants.
While the world focuses on ways to protect wildlife in the face of climate change and habitat loss, it’s worth noting that wildlife protectors all across Africa will be at work, just like they always are. That work is rewarding but dangerous, and their commitments are appreciated.
Image: Virunga National Park