Great Plains Foundation, the charitable arm of award-winning conservation tourism organisation Great Plains, has unveiled its Female Ranger Programme. Established by Great Plains founders and National Geographic filmmakers and Explorers-at-Large Dereck and Beverly Joubert, the programme started the training and deployment of local women in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. This programme will be replicated in the Zimbabwe’s Sapi Reserve.
Commenting on the project, Great Plains Foundation co-founder Dereck Joubert said:
“This initiative holds equally tremendous significance for gender equality and conservation, the challenging of gender norms, reducing human-wildlife conflict and building the next generation of local change-agents prepared to conserve African wildlife and wild landscapes. Women want to work in the conservation front line sector, and we have been overwhelmed by applications, a hundred fold more than the positions we advertised. Our commitment is to these women, these positions and to saving the wildlife we are so passionate about protecting.”
Why Female Rangers?
Female rangers have proven more capable of deescalating conflict, leading to more peaceable relationships with local populations. On average, female rangers have shown great commitment, loyal to protecting land and animals and akin to protecting their own children. As women tend to be more socially connected within their villages, female rangers may also receive more tips on poaching and illegal wildlife-orientated activities.
For women living in communities that border protected areas, becoming a wildlife monitor is a unique opportunity to develop a specialised skillset and creating some economic autonomy, contributing significantly to gender equity. Eventually, Great Plains envisions this project growing into a Wildlife and Environmental Field Skills based certificate from a training institute in Botswana and Zimbabwe for women who, otherwise, may never have had a chance at further education. Great Plains also aims to amplify female citizens by providing female rangers with a platform on which to share their unique stories and educate others working in conservation.
We spoke to Kelebemang Elijah, a female ranger in the Great Plains Foundation female ranger programme in Botswana, to find out all about life as a female ranger.
Please tell us more about yourself and how you started a career as a female ranger? What is your background?
I’m a 33-year-old female ranger, the lastborn of five hailing from a village called Sekondombo up in the northern reaches Okavango Delta panhandle. I grew up in the wilderness setting with this only igniting my passion for nature. The need to know more drove me to pursue a career in relation to my passion and dreams so it really comes from the heart. Education was not easily accessible as I had to walk 14 kilometres every day for my first 7 years of schooling as we did not have a primary school in our village. Prior to becoming a ranger, I was working in the tourism industry which provided me with the knowledge of how sensitive our biodiversity is, needing our care and responsibility for it. This opportunity was presented to me by Great Plains Foundation, and I feel privileged to be one of the first female rangers in my country.
What are your favourite aspects of your job?
The patrols. I’m an outdoor person so patrolling gives me an exposure to nature where I learn new things every single day.
What are the biggest challenges?
Gender inequality. Until recently it was rare for a woman to be part of the ranger force in Botswana, especially working on the front lines. Although this is gradually changing, the hardships we face just because we are women, can seem overwhelming. For one thing, being a ranger lies outside the bounds of female stereotypes and norms. Ranger workforces are mostly male dominated, and women who do enter these domains are often made to feel unwelcome.
How do you try to ensure your safety at work? What are the largest risks?
My day-to-day life involves encountering potentially dangerous animals during our field patrols. We have vehicles that we use during some patrols, so that way we are safe while we work. This together with my guiding and bush craft skills I am equipped with, I’m able to approach animals without provoking them.
Where do you see your career going over the next few years? What goals would you like to achieve?
I want to see myself in a place of leadership within the Ranger Force hierarchy and able to recruit and empower more women, not only to become rangers but to build strong women with a conservation mindset. I want to make a difference in the fight against the illegal exploitation of wildlife, while also ensuring that women are given an upper hand in the society.
Have you noticed a rise in female colleagues in your industry? What do you think the future holds for female rangers?
Days are gone where women are treated as inferior. I see women becoming learned, holding positions such as nature guides, that before were dominated by males only.
The future is bright for female rangers. There’s a massive career growth coming up as there are getting trained in this job. Their literacy is increasing day by day. I see them being powerful leaders, conservationists who are up for change and becoming role models to their communities.
For more information on Great Plains Foundation, please visit greatplainsconservation.com
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All imagery courtesy of Great Plains.