Why should we celebrate World Ranger Day?

Pic by Stew Nolan

Pic by Stew Nolan

Rangers form the frontline in protecting our natural heritage for future generations. Their work is often dangerous, difficult, unappreciated, unrecognized, and unknown. Rangers dedicate their lives to protect what is not theirs, but ours and those to come. World Ranger Day, which is recognised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on the 31st of July, is a chance to celebrate the wonderful work that Africa’s rangers do.

Many rangers lose their lives whilst protecting our natural heritage, whether it is due to sickness, fire, animal related death or increasingly to armed skirmishes with poachers. According to the International Ranger Federation (IRF) Roll of Honour, 52 rangers have been reported as having lost their lives in the line of duty in the last 12 months. Sean Willmore, President of the IRF, says that the vast majority have been killed by poachers or armed militia. While the IRF has been monitoring ranger deaths since 2000, “unfortunately the actual number of deaths is estimated to be two to three times higher as not all ranger deaths, particularly in Africa are recorded,” Willmore notes.

Thandi-calf-Jan2015-GaryVanWyk1Indeed, there is no doubt that there are countless others whose tragic deaths have gone unrecorded. The Game Rangers’ Association of Africa (GRAA) asks the international community to join us in saluting these brave men and women who have paid the ultimate price for conservation by celebrating their lives and indeed their calling on World Ranger Day.

Due to the current epidemic of poaching of rhino, elephant and other iconic African species, rangers are increasingly finding themselves in combat situations – and paying a significant price for this. The effects of this epidemic are not only grievous, but detrimental to rangers’ well-being. Rangers are expected to go beyond their typical role as conservationists to become active players in guerrilla warfare, putting their lives in constant jeopardy. Rising incidents of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder and burnout fatigue are just some of the effects rangers have to endure as a result of this ongoing assault on our natural heritage. The GRAA has recognised this as a priority area of work and is collaborating with experts in the fields of emotional and psychological well-being.

Added to this, the effects on rangers’ families are a reality many outside of this war do not consider. These families often live in fear, not only for the lives of their loved ones, but also for their own. Such stress puts major strain on rangers’ families and their ability to maintain a healthy family environment. This is an additional stress Africa’s rangers have to endure.

Rhino2“The ability to secure our natural resources is already constrained. The cumulative effects of the current poaching situation on the continent to rangers have the real possibility to lead to an attrition rate which is not sustainable,” says Chris Galliers, Chairman of the GRAA. “Such sustainability is only going to come about through increased ranger support and we feel both private and state organisations have to do more to address this.” In the current climate, we cannot afford to have rangers not operating at optimal levels. Rangers’ well-being is not a luxury, it is an imperative. It is high time that adequate support is offered to safeguard our rangers who are the only thing standing between poachers and Africa’s iconic species. They are waging a war that is relentless, unforgiving and uncompromising in nature that is taking its toll physically and emotionally. The GRAA is committed to increasing the necessary support systems rangers so desperately need, but that they are not always getting.

On World Ranger Day we therefore call on African governments, conservation management agencies and the private sector employers of rangers to provide emotional support and care for these formidable protectors of our wildlife. The truth in this ugly reality is that without a motivated, invigorated ranger corps, Africa’s conservation efforts will be doomed to fail.

What did Nelson Mandela teach us?

With South Africa celebrating “Mandela Month” and his birthday having just passed, my thoughts turn to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the incredible man who helped shape a New South Africa, and the incomparable legacy of the lessons he left us with.

4d1l5_042406001386314473[1]To today’s recreational day-tripper it may seem that Robben Island has few resources to offer prisoners for self-improvement. Separated from South Africa’s mainland, isolated and windswept, it has poignant reminders of previous periods when it was used as a leper colony and lunatic asylum. However, it was on this lonely, forsaken island that Nelson Mandela and his fellow political prisoners used dialogue to create a “culture of comradeship, co-operation and learning, of fierce debate coupled with political tolerance,” turning the blinding bowl of the limestone quarry in which they worked with pick and shovel into a debating club and campus.

With his candid pronouncement that “I’m no angel”, Mandela’s transformation from defiant and contemptuous agitator to endearing and pragmatic statesman was all the more remarkable because it was accomplished in the grim austerity of Cell 5 in the B-Section of the prison on Robben Island.

He found that “the cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the processes of your own mind and feelings. In judging our progress as individuals, we tend to concentrate on external factors, such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education … but internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being.”

Eddie Daniels, a fellow prisoner on Robben Island, said in an interview: “He (Mandela) gave us hope when everything was rock bottom and we saw no future. But character, not religion, was his strength.” Mandela learnt moral authority and ideological depth through reading voraciously, studying extensively and reflecting deeply on past actions, relationships, principles, beliefs and ideas – through his brains and not his blood, as he later put it.

Character or moral strength is interpreted differently by different cultures, but, for many people around the world, it represents the outward manifestation of a soul which is in alignment with itself, despite having been sorely tested. Having more to do with what is right than with what is expedient, character is not the exclusive preserve of the world’s highest and mightiest, being as likely to wind its way among the humble huts of a peaceful rural village as it is to find a path through the loftiest global corridors of power.

Character cannot be inherited or conferred by influence or position. It cannot be taken by force or won by popularity. It cannot be sold, bartered or bought. Its value, therefore, lies in the fact that it has to be earned by transcending the trials of life and, although in the frenetic pace of the early 21st century character has become a somewhat outmoded concept, its attributes are still highly prized by the global community.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, buffeted for much of his life by hurricane-force winds has become a universal symbol of the transcendent power of character. Thank you for the lessons Madiba. May we learn them well.

What changes in global focus mean for all of us?

DSCN2897From 1950 to 1990 there was an unprecedented pace and scale of global economic growth with a quintupling of global economic output – two-and-a-half month’s global production in 1990 equaled that of the entire decade of the 1950s, and there was a 12-times increase in international trade. This period, known as the Economic Era, was powered by an unparalleled consumption of renewable and non-renewable resources.

The Economic Era was defined by the production and consumption of a greater and more diverse range of goods than the world had ever seen before. Disposable, throw-away, time-reducing and labor-saving became powerful marketing bywords across a wide array of products, and a Western value system devoted to materialism rated these conveniences as having greater importance than the raw materials required to produce them – deforestation, soil erosion and aquifer depletion had yet to become the global issues they are now.

RecycleIn response to widespread global resource depletion, and as a way of guarding against an ecologically impoverished future, the period beginning in the 1990s, known as the Environmental Era, has been characterized by a shift in focus from economic growth to resource safeguarding and sustainability – conservation and thriftiness as defined by the big Rs: Rethink, Reduce, Recycle, Reuse. This has brought many changes:

– We are increasingly scrutinizing, evaluating and judging governments, institutions, corporations and individual people and acting on those judgments.
– With social media bringing an instant awareness of issues in many parts of the globe, the problems of others have become our own and solutions for a broader range of social and environmental issues are occupying our time and attention.
P1010055– Many of us are experiencing an increased desire for value-defending work and socially-responsible contribution.
– Many of us are no longer buying into the concept of unconstrained consumerism, choosing instead to live small.
– With increased awareness about pollution, many of us are managing our waste more responsibility.
– With increased awareness about climate change, many of us are reducing our carbon footprint in every way we can.

In many fundamental and important ways our global focus is changing. As massive changes being wrought in the 21st Century intensify this process, we can expect a further recalibration of our values, ethics, belief patterns, and ways of relating to the world in the time ahead. Who says we don’t live in interesting times?

What are plastic solutions for a plasticized world?

SaladWhichever way you look at it, ours is an increasingly plasticized world. With 290 million tonnes of plastic produced annually on a global basis, and plastic products being used in almost every aspect of human life from food packaging to reusable shopping bags; cellphones; ceiling insulation and geyser blankets; fibres for geo-textiles; the lining of train tunnels; and in the construction of roads and power stations, plastic is the most ubiquitous material on the planet. Happily, plastic is also recyclable, with recycling showing a year on year increase in the total tonnage being converted.

Here are some interesting recycling facts:
11 recycled cool drink bottles = 1 pair of trousers
35 recycled water bottles = 1 polar fleece jacket
41 recycled polystyrene hamburger clamshells = 1 plastic picture frame
4000 recycled 2 liter milk bottles = 1 park bench
Recycling 1 plastic bottle can save enough energy to power a 60W light bulb for 6 hours, or run a television set for 3 hours
Recycling 1 tonne of PET bottles can save 1.5 tonnes of carbon emissions.
ApplesRecycling not only keeps our environment clean, it also turns waste into something useful, reduces pollution in the ocean and on land, and extends the life of our landfill sites. Recycled materials that go back into production streams save huge amounts of energy and raw materials. In terms of reuse, plastic bags can be reused as bin liners, plastic food containers as seed trays, plastic ice-cream containers as freezer and/or storage containers and soft drink bottles as portable water bottles for the car or at the beach.

Turtle tankPlastic products can also be used in other wonderfully innovative ways to directly benefit the planet, such as the cattle water trough and shopping baskets, which are being used by the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, to temporarily house baby turtles that are being rehabilitated prior to eventual release.

If we view plastic as a valuable recyclable material, don’t litter, and are responsible about recycling, perhaps we can limit the plasticizing of our world. Is this an unrealistic pipe-dream? I really hope not.

Why the croaking of frogs should be music to our ears

WLT0091 pic3Returning home after a visit to friends on a dark and rainy night recently, it was amazing to see hundreds of little frogs jumping in the road, seeming to enjoy the downpour that was washing the tarmac.

In the UNESCO-registered biosphere reserve where I live and work, after an overnight downpour it is possible to hear the croaking of myriad frog species in the marshes and bogs and amongst the fynbos of this unique area. This cacophony of calls is music to my ears because nearly one-third of the world’s amphibian species are now on the verge of extinction.

Despite having survived the gargantuan forces of asteroid crashes and massive geological upheavals, frogs and other amphibians are now vulnerable to factors ranging from widespread pollution, infectious diseases, invasive species, and habitat loss, to the effects of climate change.

DSC_0250Found in fynbos, riparian and wetland vegetation, frog species like the Cape river frog provide an enormous service as they consume large quantities of mosquitoes, moths, ants, beetles and other insects, while tadpoles keep our waterways clean by feeding on algae. Frogs and tadpoles are also an important link in the food chain, serving as food for birds, fish, mongooses and baboons.

Frogs require suitable habitats in both terrestrial and aquatic environments and because they are especially susceptible to environmental disturbances, they are considered to be accurate indicators of environmental stress – they absorb toxins through their permeable skin and if their habitat is polluted they begin to die. As an indicator species, frogs therefore provide an alarm call when something is drastically wrong in an environment and, as such, may be considered “canaries in the cage”.

Frogs will not give us warts if we touch them, nor will they turn into handsome princes if we kiss them. They will, however, thank us for doing everything possible to keep their habitats pristine.

Is there a place for pre-industrial societies in our post-industrial world?

This century will be dramatically reshaped by, among myriad factors, the realities of carbon constraint, scientific and technological innovation which has almost reached singularity, global interdependence, virtual cross-cultural encounters and changes in the balance of economic and political power.

Gareth-Knight_lIn our post-industrial world where knowledge is power and technology the means of achieving it, people are valued more for their intellect and ability to think, plan and make decisions, than for the pre-industrial attributes of strength, endurance and “practical wisdom.”

Human capital, that is people with the education, training, skills, knowledge, abilities, experience, potential and capacity for continued learning, are considered a core resource of value creation and technologies that enable this are commensurately valued. Does this mean that there is no place for pre-industrial societies with their ages-old technologies and practical wisdom in our post-industrial world? I argue that there is.

Pre-industrial societies have much to teach us. Practical wisdom is a master virtue essential to decision-making and problem-solving, yet it is becoming increasingly difficult to nurture and display in modern society. It is, however, a characteristic of pre-industrial societies, many of whom have evolved a way to live in some of the planet’s most remote and inaccessible areas.

Sugar cane harvestOne example of the synergy between a global company and a deeply rural community, is the partnership forged between The Body Shop and its remotest suppliers, CADO (Consorcio Agro-Artesanal Dulce Organico), a cooperative of over 150 families from Moraspungo in Cotopaxi province, Ecuador, who farm sugarcane high in the foothills of the Andes, producing organic alcohol for The Body Shop’s range of fragrances.

In line with The Body Shop’s policy of reducing environmental impact, no pesticides or chemicals are used in the growing of the sugarcane and weeding is done by hand. Cane leaves are harvested and used as organic mulch on the fields or as fuel for the small distilleries, so nothing goes to waste. The sugarcane plants are also spaced further apart which results in larger, healthier plants and the extra space means that the farmers of Moraspungo can grow beans and corn and raise chickens between the sugarcane in a more sustainable form of agriculture.

Adaptation to our rapidly changing world is emerging as one of the biggest global agenda items of this century. In this respect every advantage needs to be employed whether it comes from a highly-sophisticated, first-world source, or a remote society employing ages-old technology and wisdom.