Game Rangers from two continents and two cultures find a lot in common

Despite a language and culture gap many would consider formidable, two law enforcement rangers from the U.S. Park Service bonded instantly with a group of 28 Maasai game scouts from the South Rift in Kenya.

During an intensive, ConserVentures-sponsored three-day workshop held at the Lale’enok Resource Center, about 90 miles south of Nairobi, Gary Haynes and Michael Hardin shared their training and experience in tactics for tracking poachers who might be armed and capable of laying an ambush to surprise their pursuers. In return, Gary and Michael were embraced as brethren by the Maasai rangers, who quickly recognized and valued their shared professionalism and similar challenges, and who gave as good as they received in explaining fieldcraft relevant to the African bush. Michael Lenaimado, head of the scouts and fluent in Maa and English, translated throughout the training, but after the first day or two much of the one-on-one interaction seemed to take place more by telepathy than talking. 

[For photos and video, see our Gallery and Videos pages]

Ikh Nart Nature Reserve in Mongolia

Set amid the sweeping grassland and semi-desert steppe of eastern Mongolia, the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve is a modest (163,000-acre) protected area with a remarkable wildlife population that includes endangered Argali sheep as well as more common but no less dramatic species: Siberian ibex, grey wolf, Eurasian lynx, golden and steppe eagle—not to mention the largest vulture and the smallest hamster in the world.

Established in 1996, Ikh Nart, a five-hour drive or train ride southeast of Ulaanbataar, is unfenced, open to visitors year-round, and has no entrance fee or even a headquarters. Travelers can tent on their own or stay in one of a couple of organized ger camps. In part because of this openness, poaching (for both meat and furs) and illegal mining (for amethyst quartz) remain challenging threats for the reserve’s small ranger force, in operation since 2006.  

Ocelots—lots of ocelots

Sometimes conservation news seems to come in bunches. Admittedly, it often seems like bunches of bad news, but there are enough good bunches to make the fight worthwhile.

In November, 2009, an automatic trail camera monitored by biologists from Sky Island Alliance captured the first known photograph of a live ocelot in Arizona. The unmistakable image from Cochise County thrilled everyone with an interest in southern Arizona’s wildlife and habitat—and spurred several churlish comments from the Arizona Game and Fish Department noting that its experts “had not verified the identity of the animal in the photo.” Memo to AZGF: Sour grapes make vinegar, not wine.

Meanwhile, Sky Island Alliance’s trail cameras had also recorded several resident ocelots on Rancho El Aribabi in Mexico, just 30 miles south of the border (and almost directly south of the Arizona sighting). Early this year, SIA and El Aribabi scored another coup: a video clip of a mother ocelot with a kitten, thus confirming the northernmost known breeding population of ocelots on the continent. 

This spring brought more good news.

Team to travel to Kenya for Ranger seminar

Tracking poachers through the African bush is a bit different than following a set of hoofprints in the hope of spotting a kudu for a photo safari. To start with, kudus don’t carry AK47s. Nor are they likely to double back and set up a point ambush. 

Whether you’re after man or beast, tracking is an intensely focused activity. Signs are usually faint and ambiguous—a partial print here, a scuff there. It’s like trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing. A good tracker looks ahead frequently to infer in which direction his quarry is likely to have gone, but 90% of the time his attention is directed just a few feet ahead.

And that can be hazardous if the quarry is a band of armed poachers. To improve game ranger success and personal safety, ConserVentures is working with the South Rift Game Scouts in Kenya to pay for and host a tactical tracking seminar in Kenya this October, as part of our Resources for Rangers program. Our team includes professional law enforcement officers for five days of intensive instruction. 

Movie worth seeing: Mountain Patrol

We had a chance to see the 2004 movie (part documentary) Mountain Patrol, about a small group of volunteer wildlife rangers trying to protect Tibetan antelopes in China. A very moving story, which illustrates very well the challenges faced by people trying to protect their natural and cultural heritage, in remote places, with little or no outside support.  

Shop now to support wildlife rangers

Wildlife rangers provide vital anti-poaching patrols and community protection services for Kenya’s protected areas. The most successful units are founded and run out of Maasai communities surrounding the two most game-rich areas: Amboseli-Tsavo and the South Rift Valley. The new South Rift Game Scouts need equipment and uniforms—they receive no government funding, all support comes from the Maasai communities. They need GPS units, binoculars, tents, and uniforms and we'll take a load of gear on our September conservation expedition. Click here for details and to donate or shop for conservation now.