What do you do when you arrive at a camera and find it surrounded by 15 hyaena or a large herd of buffalo? Well according to the rangers I have been working with you just get out and crack on with the work. Whilst I was initially a bit unnerved, more so by the buffalo than the hyaena, so far the rangers have not led me wrong and on both occasions the wildlife retreated to a safe distance and watched us service the camera. I’m sure when I check the next set of pictures from the camera surrounded by hyaenas I will see that they quickly returned to investigate, and hopefully not eat, the camera.
The rangers I have been working with this year have all been brilliant and, whilst their main job is to keep me safe, they have always been happy to help with servicing the cameras and even measuring grass which is not a very exciting job. They are also great guides when we need to go wandering off into the bushes on foot where we will find who knows what, even if they do sometimes laugh at the faces I pull when I find a camera infested with cockroaches. They have also all been very keen to help me improve my Kiswahili teaching me words that they think will be useful for what I am doing rather than the typical first words of a language you may learn. Some of the most useful came from a ranger in the Mara Triangle which were mawe (rocks) and shimo (hole) which when you are driving around in meter long grass are very handy to know! I can also now count to ten and know the names of the animals we encounter, which for someone who gave up languages at the earliest opportunity is progress, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. But it does definitely help for days when I am partnered with a rangers whose English may not be as good.
This year I have been running workshops for the rangers where we discuss the aims of the project and I teach them more about the camera traps so that they understand what it is we are doing and see the benefits it could bring to their teams. Part of these workshops involves me showing them pictures from the cameras from last year, I usually try and chose some of the more unusual ones and this is always great fun. It is the rarer cryptic species that the rangers seem to enjoy seeing the most such as the servals or aardvark, although pictures of the insides of hyaenas mouths as they try to eat the cameras usually get a lot of laughs. I have found these workshops really enjoyable though and I hope that as the project progresses, we can work even more closely with the ranger teams.
I really did want to share some appreciation for the rangers though especially when they are regularly joining me after coming off a night patrol to then bounce around in my car for a whole day. And as a lot of people might know I am not very chatty first thing in the morning so I’m sure I don’t always make the best first impression to them! I know I missed world ranger day back in July but these people are working tirelessly to secure habitat for our wildlife all year round so I think they deserve some appreciation every day and not just one day of the year.