Interview with Gabriel, a Ranger working for Tanzania National Parks (TaNaPa)
I was moved to interview a TaNaPa Ranger after attending the International Rangers Federation World Ranger Congress in Arusha, Tanzania in November 2012.
Perhaps the 3 biggest key issues discussed at the conference were the 3 Ps: Partnerships, Protecting areas adjacent to parks and wildlife corridors, and Poaching. Plenty of presentations pertaining to each P showed how pressing these particular points were to persons present!
Partnerships were clearly favoured as the way forward for conserving our protected areas, and there were some very interesting examples of these from around the world. My own presentation about the partnership behind the creation of the North South Track fitted neatly with this theme, and was received with much interest.
Protecting areas adjacent to reserved land was a big issue in Africa particularly, where growing populations hungry for resources push against the reserve boundaries and threaten the migration routes of many iconic species.
Poaching is the tragic result of local demand for resources – bush meat fuelled by the global demand for precious commodities like ivory and rhinoceros horn.
Firstly, that the Government takes 70% of the revenue earned by the parks. Secondly, that only 3 of Tanzania’s 16 National Parks actually make money. So 3 Parks have to pay for the operations of 16 Parks, with no financial help from the Government.
I conducted the interview atop a kopje – a rocky outcrop (literally “a little head” in Dutch) – in the eastern zone of the Serengeti National Park (see map) over a sundowner or two. No roads pass through this area, so it was just us and the animals. Among the massive boulders klipspringers cavorted on their silent rubbery hooves, with no apparent regard for gravity. As we sipped our beverages and gazed over the plain below us antelope, zebra, giraffe and hyena went gently about their wild lives, blissfully unaware…
Transcript of interview
Ben: I want to tell you why I wanted to ask you some questions. Basically, I’m a ranger too, here for the International Ranger Federation Conference. I’ve met rangers from all parts of the world, especially Tanzania, and I’ve learned about what being a ranger means here, and how different that is from being a ranger where I work. Having now visited and learned about some of the issues in your parks, I just thought it would be interesting to hear from an actual ranger, just so the people where I come from can widen their understanding of the work that Tanzanian Rangers do.
Ben: So we know that you’re a Ranger. What’s your name?
Ben: Where do you work?
Gabriel: Serengeti National Park, in the Central Zone.
Ben: How long have you been working as a Ranger?
Gabriel: 8 years.
Ben: And was that always here?
Gabriel: No, also Kilimanjaro National Park.
Ben: How did you become a Ranger?
Gabriel: I went to the African Wildlife College to study wildlife, then after I completed my certificate in Wildlife Management, TaNaPa advertised the job, I applied, went for interview and they took me as a ranger.
Ben: And had you done any voluntary work first?
Gabriel: Yes, I was in rescue at Kilimanjaro .
Ben: Did you have to rescue anyone?
Gabriel: Yes, I had to rescue a lot of clients.
Ben: A lot! I’m glad I’m not climbing Kilimanjaro then! Can you tell me about one of those? Do you remember any rescue especially?
Gabriel: I remember there was one who was suffering Mountain Sickness, a pulmonary oedema. He couldn’t walk down, so we took him in a stretcher, down to the place where the rescue car could meet us.
Ben: How high was he when he got sick?
Gabriel: About 4000m.
Ben: Ok so you had to quickly get up there then bring him down. Where was the car?
Gabriel: At about 1000m.
Ben: Phew! So you had to go down 3000m? How long did that take?
Gabriel: About 4 hours to the car. Then 2 ½ hrs in the car.
Ben: Wow. Good job! So from there you went to the Serengeti. What is the job? Can you tell me about a typical week or shift?
Gabriel: Normally we have just a shift of one week. We have day and night shift. Now, I’m on a day shift and you work for 12 hours.
Ben: So you do 7 days, 12 hours on, 12 hours off, but next time you might switch to night shift?
Gabriel: It depends; myself, I’m special, so always I work in the day time.
Ben: You mean you have special skills?
Gabriel: Yes, I went on this training program for walking safaris in the Duma mountains for 21 days.
Ben: So you did a special training course, and you have very good English – is that why you are working on walking safaris?
Gabriel: Yes. But it depends, if there are no clients, there are no safaris.
Ben: So what’s the best thing or most interesting thing about your job?
Gabriel: I like it because it makes me to contact different people, different friends, learn different behaviours of others, how they do their job – like you!
Ben: I don’t do this sort of thing very often, in case you didn’t know!! This is pretty new to me. Does it show? [ laughter] So what’s the hardest thing? What don’t you like? What’s challenging?
Gabriel: Actually there are a lot of challenges. We have a shortage of staff and a shortage of equipment, like rain coats.
Ben: Not enough staff, not enough equipment and vehicles. It’s the same thing where I work. Still, I’m sure there’s a little similarity, but over here you have 14000 plus square kilometers, so shortages are a more serious issue. What problems do these shortages present?
Gabriel: I can’t really answer, it comes down to the management of Tanzania’s National Parks. You know, because Serengeti needs much resources, but there is not only the Serengeti NP, there is 16 National Parks. But the only Parks which make money are Serengeti, Kilimanjaro and Manyara, so the other parks depend on their revenues so they can operate. So the management of TaNaPa don’t focus only on Serengeti, they also have to focus on all the other parks. It’s a big issue, because if they plan to buy 20 vehicles, those vehicles have to be divided among all the parks.
Ben: So that’s a lot of area to cover! So what would make your job easier? What would make the rangers more effective?
Gabriel: More rangers, more equipment.
Ben: More pay?
Gabriel: In terms of payment there is not a problem, it’s ok.
Ben: If you have an idea about a better way to do your job, will someone at TaNaPa listen?
Gabriel: If you have any ideas about Conservation, they do listen.
Ben: That’s good! What about training?
Gabriel: That depends on TaNaPa funding, so maybe every year or every two years, depending.
Ben: Who chooses what training you do?
Gabriel: TaNaPa decides.
Ben: What training will they get you to do next do you think?
Gabriel: I don’t know, maybe First Aid.
Ben: Ok. What about weapons training? How much training do you do before they issue you with a gun?
Gabriel: The Army does this training, until they think you are physically and mentally fit. After the training they test you. If you qualify, they give you the gun.
Ben: What guns do they give you?
Gabriel: It depends, there are different weapons for different jobs. For this job I have an AK-47 sub machine gun, which I have to return to the armoury after the job. I’m not allowed to stay with it in my room. We have different guns also, like .30-06, .375, and shotgun.
Ben: Well, I feel very safe knowing you have an AK-47, and our other guide has a .458 rifle! Anything he doesn’t deal with, I’m pretty sure you will!
Anyway, do you have to use it very often?
Gabriel: Yes. Often. During patrols. For protecting our guests against poachers, or dangerous animals. But we are not allowed to shoot people. If you shoot people there will be other issues.
Ben: I see, so you’re only allowed to shoot animals.
Gabriel: Even animals, we are not allowed to shoot. You just chase them. You have to scare them. Same for the poachers, the gun is just to protect yourself.
Ben: So you just let them know you have this gun and hope that scares them off?
Gabriel: Yes (chuckle). If they know you don’t have the gun, they might shoot you.
Ben: Right! Have there been many changes over your last 8 years in Serengeti NP?
Gabriel: Many changes!
Ben: So what will Serengeti NP look like in 10, 20 or 50 years?
Gabriel: I think if management does good, it will stay for long, but if we mix up management with politics, it will die soon. Because politics is the source of all the evils! That’s why the last 3 days I tell you I hate politics! Once you mix conservation with politics, those are two different things, they can’t go together. You must leave the politics, so then you can deal with conservation.
Ben: So the government should listen to and trust TaNaPa and give TaNaPa what it needs to do its job of managing National Parks.
Gabriel: Yes, but if the government keeps saying to TaNaPa, we need your money, then conservation will die.
TaNaPa has to stay with its mandate of management of National Parks, so that when the government says give us money, TaNaPa must say no, we need this money to manage our National Parks.
Ben: So the system was designed well, but the government isn’t letting the system work the way it was meant to.
Ben: Very interesting. Finally, is there anything you would like to ask me about Australia, or that you would like me to take back with me?
Gabriel: Just that I would like to invite people from Australia to come and visit Serengeti to learn about this place.
My thanks to Gabriel for his open and frank talk, and his fascinating insight into life as Tanzanian Ranger.