Above all things, Africa is famous for its spectacular wildlife. Many of the animals that grace its savannahs, rainforests, mountains and deserts are found nowhere else on Earth, making an African safari a truly unique experience. However, some of Africa’s most iconic animals are at risk of extinction.
The Importance of Conservation
The poaching epidemic that plagues the continent’s wild places is largely responsible, as is the conflict over resources caused by Africa’s ever-growing human population. Successful conservation efforts are the only hope for at-risk species like the eastern gorilla and the black rhino, and often, these efforts depend upon the commitment of local heroes working to protect their heritage at a grassroots level. This includes game rangers, education officers and field scientists, all of whom work behind the scenes, usually without acclaim and often at great personal risk.
A Dangerous Job
According to the International Ranger Federation, at least 269 rangers have been killed whilst on duty since 2012, many of them murdered by poachers. In some areas, there is conflict between conservationists and local communities, which see protected land as a lost opportunity for grazing, farming and hunting. Therefore, conservationists that come from within those communities often face social estrangement as well as physical danger. In this article, we look at five of the many, many African men and women who are risking it all to save the continent’s wildlife.
Sylvester Kampamba, Zambia
Native Zambian Sylvester Kampamba was awarded the 2017 Disney Conservation Hero Award in recognition of his work as an Education Officer for Zambia's North Luangwa Conservation Programme. Every year, Kampamba teaches groups of young teenagers about the importance of rhino conservation – both in the classroom, and on interactive safaris into North Luangwa National Park. Although the children Kampamba teaches live around the park’s boundaries, many of them have never seen a rhino – a species that was once poached into extinction in Zambia. By encouraging them to respect and understand the park’s rehabilitated rhino population, Kampamba is passing his own passion for conservation on to the next generation.
Jealous Mpofu, Zimbabwe
Jealous Mpofu is the the Senior Tracker for Painted Dog Conservation, a non-profit that works to protect Zimbabwe’s endangered wild dog population. Mpofu is personally responsible for locating and monitoring different wild dog packs in Hwange National Park. As well as disease and habitat loss, the dogs are at risk from entrapment in bushmeat snares. Therefore, the ability to locate, free and treat trapped dogs is crucial. When Mpofu was awarded the Disney Conservation Hero Award in 2007, he used his prize money to buy a grinding mill for his village, which is located on Hwange’s borders. In doing so, he showed his peers that they could benefit from wild dog conservation, helping to promote friendlier relations between the charity and the village.
Collet Ngobeni, South Africa
Collet Ngobeni is one of the original members of the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit. The unit, which is mostly female, won the United Nations’ Champions of the Earth Award in 2015. The Black Mambas are dedicated to protecting wildlife in the Greater Kruger National Park, and spend their days patrolling the park looking for poacher camps and wildlife snares. From 2013 to 2015 alone, the team arrested six poachers and reduced snaring in the area by 76%. Black Mambas like Ngobeni are unarmed, relying instead on combat and tracking training to outwit poachers backed by international crime syndicates. Ngobeni says that her decision to join the Mambas was inspired by a need to preserve South Africa's natural heritage for future generations – including her own young children.
Tom Lalampaa, Kenya
A Samburu from the West Gate Community Conservancy in northern Kenya, Tom Lalampaa graduated with an MBA in Strategic Management from the University of Nairobi after his community raised the funds needed to send him to school. Since 2006, he has been working tirelessly as the Community Development Assistant for the Northern Rangelands Trust to develop and unite community conservancies in northern Kenya. In 2018 he took over as the trust's CEO. Lalampaa’s position as a trusted and respected Samburu role model has helped him to promote peace amongst the region’s warring tribes, as well as the conservation of its endangered wildlife. He won the Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa in 2013, and the Stanford Bright Award for sustainability in 2016.
Jackson Kabuyaya Mbeke, Democratic Republic of Congo
After putting himself through veterinary school, Jackson Kubuyaya Mbeke first encountered the DRC’s critically endangered Grauer’s gorilla while taking part in a gorilla census in Tayna Nature Reserve. In 2008, he was hired to help build the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center near Kasugho, the purpose of which was to house Grauer’s gorillas orphaned by poachers. However, conflict within the DRC put the project on hold – but Mbeke continued to promote the idea until eventually, it was completed in 2010. Mbeke is now the Center's Director. He oversees all operations (including releasing rehabilitated gorillas back into the wild), and is an important link between the project and the local community. In 2018, he won the Born Free Award for Compassionate Conservation.