by Holly Budge
Real Women, Real Stories, Real Impact.
This pioneering global awareness week, spearheaded by international NGO, How Many Elephants (HME) celebrates and supports female wildlife rangers - They're bold, changing the game and paving the way for women to stand alongside men at the forefront of conservation, but they need allies.
Building on their success of the inaugural World Female Ranger Week last year, reaching over 500 million viewers worldwide, this year’s event is set to be even bigger. There will be online and live events, global media interviews, plus a bespoke fundraising platform to raise vital funds for the rangers worldwide.
As champions of wildlife conservation, as role models, as educators and as beacons of hope, female rangers are not only transforming attitudes towards the role of women around the world; they are showing the capabilities and success of females in traditionally male roles. However, less than 11% of the global wildlife ranger workforce is female. With women being natural communicators, protectors and investing their earned income in their families, bringing gender equity into the workforce is enhancing community conservation efforts and relationships.
Image Credit: How Many Elephants, Ilan Godfrey, Julia Gunther
The founder of How Many Elephants and World Female Ranger Week, Holly Budge says, "having patrolled with multiple ranger teams across Africa, I've seen first-hand how these bold women are impacting lives; Protecting wildlife, uplifting communities and empowering other women. WFRW highlights the significant gender imbalance in environmental conservation. My team and I will continue collating gender-specific data about female rangers globally, enabling us to identify their needs, find tangible solutions and help build effective policies to contribute towards positive outcomes; for female rangers and conservation as a whole."
The COVID-19 Pandemic crippled tourism and funding for conservation projects globally. The lack of tourists visiting National Parks led to many rangers losing their jobs or having significant salary cuts. The knock-on effect of this was huge. For example, one ranger in Africa may support up to 16 family members. Additionally, reduced vigilance in tourist hotspots left wildlife even more vulnerable to poaching.
The often-challenging work of rangers is paramount right now. Day and night, female rangers patrol wilderness areas, monitor wildlife, seize snares, work with communities and in some cases, arrest poachers, all to protect nature. Some rangers are away from their families for long periods, sometimes facing workplace security issues and battling social stigma. Many of these women have overcome adversity, poverty, and marginalisation. Becoming a ranger has empowered them, turned them into breadwinners and property owners, and has allowed them access to higher education and much-needed healthcare.
Image Credit: Brent Stirton & Amish Chhagan
Holly and her team have identified over 4500 female rangers in 18 African countries so far, and over 5500 female rangers around the world, including in Guyana, China, Sri-Lanka, Indonesia, India, Tasmania, Venezuela and Scotland to mention a few.
Meet some of the women who give their all to protect wildlife from extinction.
India: Purnima Devi Barman
Purnima is a conservationist, biologist and founder of the Hargila Army, India. She is changing people’s perceptions of the Greater Adjutant Stork. Often referred to as a disease-carrying pest, an ugly, filthy bird or a bad omen, Purnima and her ‘Hargila Army’ have helped turn this bird into a cultural icon in Assam, India. Purnima built the Hargila Army from small beginnings, now a team of
over 10,000 women working together to protect the critically endangered Greater Adjutant Stork. “Today many women join because it is a matter of prestige to be a part of the Hargila Army.”
Image Credit: Andrew Johnson (Hargila Army Purnima)
Kenya: Raabia Howa
Raabia founded the Ulinzi Africa Foundation (UAF), East Africa's first non-profit that focuses on ranger welfare and remote areas. They currently focus on the preservation of the Tana Delta ecosystem, a certified UNESCO - RAMSAR site, and a Key Biodiversity Area, which hosts elephant ‘maternity wards’ and ‘retirement forests’ where the elephants seek shelter and vital nutrient rich flora only found in this area. Raabia’s vision is to transform the Tana Delta from a poaching hotspot into a safe living ecosphere for people and wildlife. She employs a team of 12 rangers. To date, they have made several arrests and successful recoveries of weapons however are finding that their security is under increasing threat.
Liberia: Grace Kotee
Grace (30) is a ranger in The East Nimba Nature Reserve (ENNR) in Liberia. Growing up as a child in a rural village, Grace felt bad when she saw people killing and eating wildlife. She promised she would do something to protect the forest resources of Liberia and the world at large. Grace still battles social stigma as some of her community think that working as a ranger “is not a feminine job” and she is often criticized. “Culture/ society sees a ranger career as a male job and doesn’t encourage me. Sometimes when I am riding my bike they tell me that I will not bear children if I continue.” A few of the challenges Grace faces at work are discrimination from her male counterparts and limited time with my husband and family.
Meet Sumini, (47), a housewife and forest ranger leading a group of female volunteers fighting to stop devastating deforestation and poaching of critically endangered wildlife such as Sunda Pangolins. They operate in the north of Sumatra in one of the most biodiverse areas on Earth. The culprits are mostly men, sometimes neighbours or husbands of team members, who live in the village together.
Image Credit: Isle of Gigha (Casey-Jo-Scotland), South Rapununi, International Anti Poaching Foundation
South Africa: Leitah Mkhabela
An original ‘Black Mamba’ Ranger, Leitah (28) has been working for Africa’s first all-female team since their inception in 2013. Leitah, a ranger and a mother, says “we cannot do it by ourselves. We need more eyes, more people helping us. When I started as a Black Mamba, people were scared of the training we went through. People said this training is for men and we couldn’t do it because we are women. The hardest part was that even women were looking down on us. But people started to come around once the impact of the female rangers was clear. It has helped women in the community to see themselves differently. People have seen how we want to do this and so many women started to support us.”
WFRW Ambassador, Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka from Uganda, says
“I’m delighted to support World Female Ranger Week. Gender equity in the conservation arena is such an important and prevalent topic. There is\Nstill much work to do but World Female Ranger Week plays a key role in raising awareness of the work of female rangers and women in conversation in the broader picture.”
HME welcomes strategic partnerships to expand the campaign's reach to strengthen the support of female rangers. Businesses and individuals can set up branded fundraising pages via worldfemalerangerweek.org.
Holly Budge| email@example.com | +44 (0) 7770 507686
About How Many Elephants
UK registered charity, How Many Elephants (1186238), is a powerful design-led awareness campaign and innovative in its 100% non-gory approach. It showcases the annual poaching rate of 35,000 elephants in Africa in a visual exhibition to inspire and educate a global audience about the devastating impacts of the ivory trade.
How Many Elephants collaborates with and supports female rangers on the front line. Read more at www.howmanyelephants.org
About the Author
Holly Budge, Founder of How Many Elephants & World Female Ranger Week
Holly Budge is a world-class adventurer and conservationist, who has been supporting female rangers for almost a decade. She has earned the rare privilege of patrolling on the front line with multiple all-female and mixed ranger teams across Africa. Recently voted as ‘Female Thought Leader in Non-Profit’ this year, Holly is the first
woman to skydive Everest and has
Image Credit: How Many Elephants
summited Everest. Through her adventures, she has fundraised over £450K. She founded her NGO ‘How Many Elephants’ in 2013 while studying for a Masters in Sustainable Design and her work has since been highly praised, including by Sir David Attenborough. Read more at www.hollybudge.com