The vulnerability and threats faced by forest rangers everyday are given due acknowledgment on World Ranger Day, held annually on July 31. For the first time, World Ranger Day was observed in Thailand at Pang Sida National Park that is one of the five constituents of the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai UNESCO World Heritage Site. Chaired by Thailand’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment; the event was held by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), the Freeland Foundation, and IUCN.
World Ranger Day is celebrated around the globe each year on 31 July to commemorate the dedication and sacrifice of rangers who put their lives at risk every day to protect the world’s natural resources and wildlife in the face of alarming threats. More than 1000 rangers have died worldwide, and many have been injured in the course of their duties over the past 10 years. This year alone at least 83 rangers have been killed.
In Thailand, there are 20,490 rangers working in 411 protected areas. Since 2009, up to 40 park rangers have been murdered, 26 injured, and 23 left in a critical condition. Many of the rangers are exposed to danger on a daily basis through dealing with aspects such as armed poachers and illegal loggers. The work of park rangers, especially in the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, is even harder than other protected areas at present, as it is under heavy pressure from illegal logging of Siamese Rosewood. This makes their job all the more difficult as they are generally undertrained and poorly equipped.
World Ranger Day was observed for the first time this year in Thailand at Pang Sida National Park, one of the five constituents of the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai UNESCO World Heritage. The ceremony, chaired by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, was held by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), the Freeland Foundation, and IUCN.
“Forest Protection is a life saving act’ is a royal quoted saying of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, who has been considered the Patron of Thai Rangers of Protected Areas. IIn the 1960s, IUCN assisted the Royal Thai Government to set up the Protected Area System for the country, and Khao Yai was established as the first National Park in Thailand. In 2005, IUCN as an advisory body of the World Heritage Committee, assisted in inscribing Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex as a World Heritage site due to its richness in natural treasures and biodiversity. Now the World Heritage Site has been under severe and increasing threats, mostly from human activities, some of which are transnational boundary crimes. Rangers should be physically, economically, socially and spiritually supported by concerned parties to protect these national treasures as undamaged gifts for the next generation”, says Dr Chamniern Vorratnchaiphan, IUCN Thailand Country Representative.
More than 500 people including park rangers, students, citizens and state officers gathered at the site to pay tribute to the work that rangers perform and to remember those who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Exhibitions on National Parks, endangered wildlife and plants, poaching and illegal logging practices were shown at the event. Honorary awards were given to rangers who have been injured as well as to families of rangers who have died in service.
“World Ranger Day should be a day of celebration but the more we think about it, it is a day of mourning. We mourn the rangers killed and wounded on duty. We mourn the lack of support, salaries, training and resources given to the rangers who put their lives on the line whilst saving our natural resources. We mourn the lack of public awareness and acknowledgement of the rangers’ responsibilities, duties, tasks and sacrifices in adverse conditions. I appeal to the world governments and the international community to support in full our dedicated protectors of biodiversity”, says Mr Mark Bowman, Director of Field Operations, Freeland Foundation.
The Minister of Natural Resources and Environment acknowledged Mr Bowman’s appeal and pledged to provide more support to rangers. According to his statement, a welfare fund has been implemented and other support will also be provided to rangers and their families, such as a group insurance scheme and a compensation programme.
“Our park rangers risk their lives every day to protect our extensive forest land with an area of more than 73 million Rai (116,800 Sq km). But the budget we have to support this work is only 13.87 Baht per Rai which is incredibly low considering the tough tasks they do, particularly in the face of increasing illegal logging of Siamese Rosewood. Thus to support these dedicated rangers, the Department has implemented a welfare fund for park rangers who are hired on either a temporary or permanent basis. We will do as much as we can to assist them”, says Mr Vichet Kasemthongsri, Natural Resources and Environment Minister of Thailand.
By Nantana Atibodhi