November 25, 2021

Unsung heroes: The true heroes of African conservation

The Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award gives international recognition to the dedication and commitment of an individual who works in the field to protect Africa’s wildlife.

The Nick Maughan Foundation is proud to sponsor the Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award, which gives international recognition to the dedication and commitment of an individual who works in the field to protect Africa’s wildlife. Granting the winner £30,000 over three years, the Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award is directly in line with the three pillars of the Nick Maughan Foundation: Education, the environment and the community. It was a true joy to attend the awards ceremony on Monday and see the Duke of Cambridge present the deserving finalists their award.

When choosing the winner of the award, Tusk looks for evidence of the following: Outright conservation achievement and recognition within Africa, impact, value, sustainability of work, replicability of work, financial credibility, and international recognition. Demonstrating these elements are as important as the individual’s personal dedication and commitment as together these comprise the core of what it means to be a true Wildlife Ranger.

In the past, Wildlife Rangers have been people working in the field including game scouts, game guards, wildlife trackers, and wildlife monitors, both uniformed and non-uniformed. These are people who really make the most difference to conservation in Africa everyday, but are often unrecognised for their commitment and service. Unlike generous philanthropists who are often singled out for one-off donations, Wildlife Rangers are the people that turn up every day and make the biggest difference over time. They are often paid next to nothing for their efforts, and regularly risk and sometimes even lose their lives, all in the name of protecting Africa’s endangered species and fragile ecosystems. The reality is that one exceptional individual can make an exceptional difference, in changing the culture and management of areas home to some of the world’s most endangered species. This is what we try to champion with our award.

This year’s winner, Suleiman Saidu, embodies all of these qualities. Employed by the Nigeria National Park Service in 1999 as a park ranger, Suleiman has progressed through the ranks to become a Senior Game Guard Ranger at the Yankari National Park. Suleiman’s duties include leading anti-poaching patrols, working with local communities and elephant guardians to help mitigate human-elephant conflict, monitoring elephants, prosecuting poachers in court, ranger training and research. He has also driven down cattle grazing in the reserve and clamped down on corruption. His diligence, hard work, commitment, and honesty have earned him the respect and admiration of both his colleagues and his community, and without him, Yankari would not be what it is today. It is thanks to Suleiman that Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State is Nigeria’s richest wildlife site and home to one of the largest remaining elephant populations in West Africa.

For over 30 years, Tusk has worked to build a sustainable future for the African continent and its wildlife. Since its formation, Tusk has raised over $100m for a wide range of projects, which not only work to protect wildlife, particularly endangered species, but also help to alleviate poverty through sustainable development and education amongst rural communities living alongside wildlife.

With poaching levels continuing to rise across Africa, particularly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – both for trophies and bushmeat, it is the dogged determination of people like Suleiman that Africa needs the most. And though we single out Suleiman for his efforts in particular, we must take the opportunity to remember the many others who, like him, are relentless in their pursuit of making the world a better place.

There are times when it is important to single out the work of one individual to serve as an example for others who contribute to conservation, or who might want to contribute to conservation in the future. Suleiman should be rightly recognised for his achievements and should be considered as a true hero of our times, one that richly deserves the Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award for 2021. I am proud that the Nick Maughan Foundation is the official sponsor of the Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award, and I hope that it will continue to be for many years to come.

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