Wildlife rangers have a tough job—and not many benefits. So why do they do what they do?
Chris Galliers©Game Rangers Association of Africa
Being a wildlife ranger isn't easy. What we can't argue, however, is that it's certainly a noble, amazing job. A ranger protects species like lions, tigers, elephants, and several more. Rangers face dangers from dealing with large wild animals, but they also face another danger—poachers. According to the organization Conservation Watch, over 100 rangers die each year fighting for conservation.
With the hazards of the job, you'd expect that there's a tangible incentive for the rangers. However, this isn't so. "Generally, rangers are highly undertrained, undersupported and not respected," said Barney Long of the organization Global Wildlife Conservation. "We put people in charge of these valuable resources and yet we don't look after the people who are taking care of them."
Given all this, what does motivate the rangers to do their jobs?
Being a wildlife ranger does seem to be a dangerous, thankless job. Not only are you in danger of getting killed by poachers, you're also earning a pittance, and you spend long stretches of time away from your family. Thus, a group of researchers were curious as to why rangers keep doing what they do despite the drawbacks of their job.
WWF-trained data collectors contacted hundreds of rangers in Asia and met with them to ask 10 questions about the job. Some of the respondents were able to answer the questions through email and post. All in all, 530 rangers in 39 different conservation areas in 11 different countries in Asia responded.
One question asked the rangers to rank nine job aspects according to how much each aspect motivates them. About 47% of rangers selected “I have no other job option” as their prime motivator. Having good promotion prospects comes in second, while liking the power and authority that come with the job comes in third. These are what the researchers call “extrinsically motivated”.
About 47% of wildlife rangers also selected “I enjoy being close to nature” as their chief motivator. 43% said that they enjoy being a ranger. These, meanwhile, are “intrinsically motivated”.
Photo by Tony Karumba
According to the study, rangers who were better equipped were also more likely to want their children to become rangers as well. This shows how a good work environment affects the rangers' commitment to their job. However, chief among the reasons that rangers don't want their children to follow in their footsteps are low wages and the lack of rewards for their hard work. The researchers say that if you wouldn't want your children to do what you do, you're less likely to encourage others to get in the same line of work.
This study is just the beginning. The WFF has also presented the same set of questions to wildlife rangers in Latin America and Africa. There is also a similar study with 120 instead of just 10 questions. The results of these studies may be able to help guide nations toward better policy making strategies that will better reward rangers.
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