CAR's forest rangers in rebels' line of fire

2018-11-22 08:01
Central African Republic (iStock)

Central African Republic (iStock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

The forest rangers of Central Africa's Bamingui Bangoran park cannot focus only on saving the region's dwindling wildlife: they have themselves to protect too.

Often armed with little more than Kalashnikov assault rifles, these men must contend with rebel groups who can be far better equipped.

Added to their woes are poachers who prey on the wildlife they seek to protect.

Today, a column of men makes its way through the verdant park, spread over 10 000km2, or a third the size of Belgium, in the north of Central African Republic.

Sergeant Simplice is leading them towards the zone that Christelle, a young giraffe, has made her home.

These days Christelle gets special protection, because she is the last of her kind in this part of the park.

"She had others in her family, but they have all been killed by poachers," said Simplice as his men set up camp in a bee-infested shelter.

Dwindling numbers

"In 40 years, we have gone from more than 35 000 elephants to, I daresay... zero," said Hilde Vanleeuwe, who oversees conservation work at the park.

Embossed on the rangers' sleeves is the head of a giant eland, the world's largest antelope. It serves as the logo of Ecofaune+, a conservation project backed by the European Union since 2016.

The aim of the project, run by the country's waters and forestry ministry, is to protect the region's rich but dwindling wildlife population.

"The European Union has been supporting the management and protection of wildlife and biodiversity in the north of the CAR for about 30 years," said the park's coordinator, Andrea Ghiurghi.

But as each project comes to an end, it is only a few months before the good work is undone: once a team leaves, their base is looted and poachers, sometimes linked to armed groups, return.

Then a new team, working for the next EU-financed project, must start from scratch.

"We're well aware of the problem," Ghiurghi said. But this time around, he said, the Ecofaune+ project will hand over seamlessly to its successor, Ecofac 6 - another EU-financed project.

Militia attacks

As if the work was hard enough, the rangers also contend with the mainly Muslim Seleka militia who have operated in the region since 2013, the year they ousted Christian president Francois Bozize, sparking a conflict that has killed thousands.

Militiamen came to the area "to loot weapons and ammunition", one ranger recalled.

Some of his colleagues were even conscripted into the militia, he said, because of their combat experience.

The rangers have also faced off with armed Janjaweed horsemen from Sudan, who conduct long-range poaching missions across central Africa.

Sergeant Simplice will never forget one clash with the Janjaweed.

"One day, we were ambushed by a column of 80 Sudanese who better armed than us," he said, recalling their assault rifles, rocket-launchers and grenades.

* Sign up to News24's top Africa news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO THE HELLO AFRICA NEWSLETTER

FOLLOW News24 Africa on Twitter and Facebook

"There were 12 of us, but only seven of us returned," he said, showing a scar left by a bullet that had grazed his neck.

The Janjaweed raids, while not as common as they were before 2013, have not stopped either.

After a UN arms embargo imposed on the country in 2013, the rangers rely increasingly on their knowledge of the terrain and on their training, which they get from a French former paratrooper.

The government does not want to supply more weapons for fear they will end up in rebel hands.

"We've only got the Kalashnikov, what can we do?" said Sergeant Eric. "It's a very, very dangerous job."

But he hopes they can help reverse the trend and bring the animals back, saying: "This is our heritage."

Read more on:    un  |  central african republic  |  central africa
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

 
/News
Traffic Alerts

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Jobs in Western Cape region

HSE Manager

Cape Town
Tumaini Consulting
R550 000.00 - R650 000.00 Per Year

Cluster Financial Manager

Cape Town
Network Finance
R950 000.00 - R1 000 000.00 Per Year

Reporting Accountant

Cape Town
Network Finance Professional / Prudential
R310 000.00 - R360 000.00 Per Year

Property [change area]

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.