Being a forest ranger in India seems to rank top on the list of jobs with high mortality rates. Based on statistics provided by a non profit organization called IRF (International Ranger Federation), past three years saw the death of 72 forest rangers in India. This number is very high as compared to their counterparts in other countries in Asia, Africa and America which lost less than 10 rangers in the same time frame.
The report by IRF states that almost 60% of the death of the rangers by killing is in Asia. In 2012, there were 34 forest rangers deaths in India as compared to 6 deaths in the United States which was second on the list. In 2013, India lost 14 forest rangers. In the same year, Philippines & Congo lost 9 rangers each, Kazakhstan and Chad each lost 6 rangers and Uganda lost 7. This year itself, 24 forest rangers have been killed in India which is significantly higher as compared to 10 rangers in Kenya which takes the second place. Thailand follows next with 6 deaths and Tanzania had 3 ranger deaths so far in 2014.
Perils on the Job
There are two major reasons for the deaths of forest rangers in India,
Altercations with poachers
Since ages, India has been the source for smuggling various animal parts to China, where they are in huge demand for use in Chinese traditional medicine. The poachers who supply the parts are well paid for it. It is therefore no wonder that that they are determined and ready to kill anyone who comes in the way of the lucrative animal trade. Unfortunately, forest rangers are often poorly equipped with weapons and are no match for the poachers who have modern defense mechanisms at hand to loot and kill.
Attacks by wild animals
India forest rangers and even other forest officials often have to work in conditions where even the basic facilities like indoor toilets are unavailable easily. Sometimes they venture into the forests armed only with merely a bamboo stick. Hence, they are extremely susceptible to animal attacks.
In July this year, a forest guard was mauled to death by a wild animal at a check post in Erode district on Dhimbham Ghat road in Tamil Nadu. It is suspected that the guard was attacked by a leopard while he was answering a call of nature.
In Kaziranga National Park, Assam, 5 people from the forest staff were killed by animals this year. Two of them were killed by rhinos, two by wild buffalos and one was killed by a tiger.
Other problems faced by the forest staff
Diseases like Dengue and malaria, forest fires, road accidents and lack of adequate field training also contribute to the higher death numbers of forest rangers in India. Indian forest rangers are usually poorly paid. In many of the National Parks, they do not even have radios to communicate with each other.
Additionally if the forest rangers shoot the poachers even for self defense, they are taken to the court for violation of human rights by human activists.
Steps for the protection of Forest Rangers
In the past few years, few changes have been brought to better the lives of these rangers who spend 24×7 inside the harsh terrains risking their lives everyday.
In Kaziranga National Park, in 2010, forest rangers received shoot-on-sight orders for poachers. This has helped conserve both the endangered one horned rhinos as well as tigers and protect the rangers.
In 2012, after a marked increase in tiger poaching, the state of Maharashtra issued a similar directive. The forest minister confirmed that no case was to be filed against the forest rangers if they open fire at the poachers caught in the act. As per reprots, further measures such as provision of better weapons, 100 vehicles and more funds to recruit people for tracking poachers were also taken.
The protection of a nation’s national treasure is as important a responsibility as protection of its borders from infiltrators. The enemy entering the deep jungles and robbing the nation of it’s glorious natural heritage can only be stopped if the men given the role to protect it can do so equipped with the latest weapons and a promise of a better life. It is not sheer bravado that can save the rhinos and the tigers everytime. The forest rangers’ lives need to be valued more in order for them to do their task in a better way.