Gutsy Guardians of the Forest: A Tribute on World Ranger Day
Music flows effortlessly through the veins of the people of Sabah. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who couldn’t sing a note or play a musical instrument.
“I’ve never met a microphone that I didn’t like,” joked Oswald Goniur, a soft-spoken WWF-Malaysia programme assistant who sings classic rock songs and plays the acoustic guitar in his free time.
You can’t blame Oswald for loving music. After all, it did save his life once.
“We were camping near Danum Valley Conservation Area in 2014 to retrieve our camera traps,” he said. “It was during the rainy season and our campsite was next to the Segama River”.
Oswald continued, “We only realised that we had camped too close to a Bornean elephants’ travel route when their trumpets became louder as time went by”.
Although Oswald’s team found themselves trapped between the herd of elephants and the swelling Segama River, abandoning the camp was not an option.
“We couldn’t take off just like that as we had valuable field equipment with us, including the cameras which contained priceless photos of wildlife. So we decided to be creative,” he chuckled.
Their solution was to perform a deafening percussion set involving their pots and pans in order to drive the elephants away.
“It worked after a day and a half as the herd finally changed their course, but our arms stayed sore for days!”
Oswald is one of WWF-Malaysia’s Sabah Terrestrial Conservation Programme (STCP) field staff who also provides support to wildlife enforcement agencies in Sabah. Searching for a stable and meaningful career, he applied to become a programme assistant three years ago. He has never looked back since then.
Keeping up with Kretam
As for Oswald’s colleague Albert Sitawin, his most memorable field experience was capturing Kretam, the last known male Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia, sometime in in 2008. Prior to Kretam’s capture, Albert had only seen photos and videos of the shy animal.
“We received a tip from an oil palm plantation bordering Kretam Virgin Jungle Reserve that there was a Sumatran rhinoceros lurking in the area,” he shared.
“Together with Sabah Wildlife Department, we then planned its capture so we could save it from poachers. After patrolling along the border of the plantation, we finally caught a male Sumatran rhinoceros.”
Named after the jungle where it was found, Kretam was then sent to Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu, where it is currently under the care of Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA).
On your feet, soldier!
“Your job will be as tough as that of a soldier, but the difference is that you will not be carrying any guns”.
That was the advice that Ronny Madius received when he interviewed to be a ranger with WWF-Malaysia in Sabah eight years ago.
Ronny initially had no idea what he had signed up for when he came for the interview.
Only after accepting the offer did the successful candidate discover that he was required to trek in thick jungles from days to weeks, on challenging terrains and through harsh weather conditions.
“It’s a physically and mentally demanding job. A typical day in the field would see us lugging 15kg to 20kg each on our backs and trekking for several hours in a day.”
“Despite all the challenges in this field, I’ve grown to love my job and I now have a better understanding and appreciation for wildlife conservation,” he admitted. “Besides, it’s never a dull moment working in the forest. My teammates and I have become very good friends. I know I can count on them come rain or shine”.
Front liners of conservation
“It is not an easy job protecting large protected areas such as parks and sanctuaries, which is why our rangers occasionally assist enforcement agencies in patrolling these places,” said Sharon Koh, who coordinates STCP’s patrolling and monitoring efforts in Sabah.
She continued, “Rangers all over the world are the front liners of conservation. In the course of their duties such as patrolling, they face risks such as coming face to face with armed poachers. It’s not a job for the weak-hearted”.
Sharon believes that rangers deserve all the support that they can get for the critical role that they play in preserving protected areas.
“WWF-Malaysia has continuously advocated for more resources for protected areas so that they can be adequately managed and protected. Besides advocacy and joint patrols, WWF-Malaysia also provides support to rangers in enforcement agencies and protected areas in terms of capacity building and wildlife monitoring through camera traps.”
In conjunction with World Ranger Day this year, a selected group of rangers from all over Malaysia will be gathering in Crocker Range Park, a large terrestrial protected area managed by Sabah Parks. Co-hosted by WWF-Malaysia and Sabah Parks, the event aims to motivate rangers to perform better and to allow them to share field experience amongst each other.
About World Ranger Day
Observed annually on 31st July, World Ranger Day commemorates rangers killed or injured in the line of duty and also celebrate their dedication in protecting natural and cultural treasures. Observed for the first time in 2007, this event is promoted by 63 member associations of the International Ranger Federation (IRF), its partner the Thin Green Line Foundation, and also individuals who support the work of rangers and the IRF.