Winners at the Game Rangers Association of Africa 2022 African Conservation Awards © GRAA
Africa’s conservation heroes were celebrated at the prestigious awards ceremony at the African Rangers Congress in Botswana on 17 September. The awards are an annual celebration to honour the courageous men and women who are committed to protecting Africa’s natural spaces and in doing so raise awareness of the critical and diverse work they do to ensure that our wildlife and wild places are safeguarded for generations to come.
Now in its eleventh year, the event was hosted by the Game Rangers Association of Africa (GRAA) in Kasane, Botswana where rangers from across Africa gathered to share experiences. His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco, who is the Patron of the African Conservation Awards, reminded us of the threats and dangers this selfless group of individuals face by referring to the assassination of Best Game Ranger Award finalist Anton Mzimba in a video message; “It reminds us of the importance of your profession, the risks you face on a day to day basis but also the determination and dangerous nature of those you confront and whom you often face alone. I applaud the fact that you are now honouring all the heroes of biodiversity beyond the rhino alone. You are the fighting vanguard of a global movement which should be promoted, encouraged, supported and prolonged by all of us.”
The Game Rangers’ Association of Africa (GRAA) is a non-profit organisation, founded in 1970 which provides support, networks and representation for rangers across Africa. The GRAA is a proud member of the International Ranger Federation (IRF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) where it serves as the voice of the African ranger.
The winners, selected by evaluation of the work done over the last 12 months, starting in July 2021 were announced as follows:
BEST FIELD RANGER
Winner: Boris Harding Ndourou, Manovo-Gounda St. Floris National Park, Central African Republic. As Head of Sector, Boris leads a team of 80 rangers and ensures tactical advice on operational deployments where he leads anti-poaching and biomonitoring activities. Until 2019, this park was subject to poachers, illegal wildlife traders and armed groups, but Boris took the lead in relaunching operational activities in the park, resulting in an increase in wildlife. To date, Boris’s anti-poaching operations deterred 147 infringers from poaching and confiscated 41 hunting weapons. He has also reached 258 transhumance pastoralists through awareness-raising activities and helped divert 23,000 heads of livestock out of the national park.
Anton Mzimba, Head of Ranger Services, Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, South Africa. © Bryan Havemann
BEST GAME RANGER
Winner: Anton Mzimba (posthumous), Head of Ranger Services, Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, South Africa. Anton began his career at Timbavati Private Nature Reserve as a general worker in the mid-1990s where he fixed roads, built gabions, maintained fences and completed the daily tasks required of a general labourer. He always strived to be a ranger and over the next 25 years, Anton rose through the ranks, progressing from ranger to Corporal, Sergeant, and finally becoming Head of Ranger Services.
Besides the numerous accolades and press, Anton’s greatest gift was his ability to lead and inspire the people from the local communities that border Kruger National Park. Anton led by example, working to change the stigma that conservation was a wealthy minority’s privilege, and instead a birth right to all of humanity, from all backgrounds, races and cultures. He believed in developing his team and wanted both local men and women to have the opportunity to climb the ranks into leadership roles.
On 26 July 2022, Anton was assassinated outside his home by three gunmen alleged to be linked to poaching syndicates, paying the ultimate sacrifice for being a ranger and a leader on the front lines of the rhino poaching war.
BEST CONSERVATION TEAM
Winner: Simba Community Wildlife Scouts, Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, Kenya. Simba Scouts are a conservation team working within Kuku Group Ranch in south-eastern Kenya. They include a dedicated team of 18 Maasai warriors (Moran’s), who monitor GPS collared lions and other wildlife species which is a very significant measure for mitigating human-wildlife conflict within the local Maasai communities.
Another impact of the Simba Scouts has been the influence of the community in embracing conservation.
BEST CONSERVATION SUPPORTER
Winner: Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, Kenya. In the last four decades, Kenya has lost more than 68% of its wildlife. Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) was established to address this issue. KWCA has mobilised a membership of 174 mainly community conservancies to adopt a holistic approach to addressing the biodiversity crisis and tackling the complex problem of habitat loss. Today the network of over 215 conservancies in the country are a celebrated success as the organisation marks its ten-year anniversary. The network of conservancies has more than doubled the area under conservation from 8% of the country’s landmass to 20% (addition of 7.2 million ha of conserved land) today mainly due to the enabling policy environment and incentives negotiated through KWCA.
“In these dark times of unchecked human overpopulation, which causes climate degeneration and destruction of wildlife and the natural world, our conservation heroes are the last hope! The assassination of Anton Mzimba and the deaths of hundreds of his conservation hero colleagues worldwide emphasises the crisis. Please join me in congratulating all of the winners and finalists of the African Conservation Awards 2022! We are incredibly grateful to you” – Dr Larry Hansen, Founder of the African Conservation Awards.
Dr John Ledger is a past Director of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, now a consultant, writer and teacher on the environment, energy and wildlife; he is a columnist for the African Hunting Gazette. He lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. John.Ledger@wol.co.za