In the Complexe Upemba-Kundelungu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a new generation of rangers is being trained to protect its wildlife. The training doesn’t only prepare them for the job, it also provides them the role models they never had.

Header photo: Proud park rangers received their certificates upon completion of their training in the Complexe Upemba-Kundelungu in DRC © Rob Craig

Located in the Katanga Province in the South-East of DRC, the Complexe Upemba-Kundelungu consists of two National Parks covering an area of approximately 24,600km2 of spectacular wilderness. Upemba National Park, with legal protection since 1939, is one of the oldest in Africa. The park is linked to Kundelungu National Park and a number of game reserves, together forming a massive mosaic of protected areas.

Upemba and Kundelungu boast a wide diversity of habitats, including a full transitional gradient from highland steppe through miombo woodland to both wooded and grassland savannah. There are numerous rivers, waterfalls, wetlands and gallery forests. The Lufira River and Lake Upemba, both within park boundaries, form a critical watershed for the region as well as the source of the mighty Congo River.

Refuge for zebras and savannah elephants

The parks’ wildlife populations suffered during the Congo war, and subsequent neglect of the parks and illegal poaching enabled bushmeat hunting to further decrease wildlife numbers. Nevertheless, many species remain and the park is a refuge for the last savannah elephants in Katanga as well as the last zebras in DRC. Other notable species include endemic Upemba lechwe, roan, antelope, black sable, buffalo, leopard, giant ground hornbill and many other bird species.

To protect this unique ecosystem and habitat, and the wildlife in this vast area from illegal poaching and other threats, a new generation of park rangers is being trained.

New generation of rangers

In December 2019, the first group of 50 rangers received their certificates upon successful completion of the 3-month training programme. ‘The training has given these young men a purpose,’ says Tina Lain, Senior Expert Environmental at IUCN NL. ‘They are extremely proud of the job they do and their contribution to the protection of local wildlife.’

The training, facilitated by ex-soldiers, did not only focus on the ‘technical’ aspects of the job, such as how to carry out patrols and being aware of the danger of possible ambushes. It was also designed to build the self-esteem, team skills and emotional resilience of the young participants.

Role model

‘Many of the boys grew up without a father or other role model to look up at,’ Lain says. ‘The ranger programme provides them with role-models, sometimes for the first time in their life.’ While most of the participants look up at park rangers such as Rodrigue Katembo or the mentors during the training, a number of them develops leadership skills during the training and takes up a leading role within the group. ‘It makes me proud to see them become role models themselves,’ Lain says.  

Part of a team

During the training, there is a strong focus on teambuilding. ‘As a ranger, you are not just an individual carrying out a job, you are part of a team,’ Lain states. It is therefore important that the rangers get to know each other very well and they recognize the specific contribution of each ranger within the group. ‘It’s not that you just can tell others what to do because you are wearing a uniform,’ Lain explains. ‘It takes great interpersonal skills to operate as a team. And it’s great to see how each of the participants discovers its own strengths. These young adults really grow during the training, also on an emotional level.’

The training consists of various modules. ‘After the basic training that prepares participants for the work as a park ranger, we offer additional modules in collaboration with the University of Lubumbashi,’ says Lain. ‘While the basic training focuses mainly on how to deal with risks, additional modules center for example around human rights, community engagement or fisheries.’ While rangers are educated to do biodiversity monitoring, IUCN NL also works with various partner organisations to ensure further personal development of the rangers.

European Union flag
Co-funded by the European Union

‘It is important that the ranger force is well prepared for the job ahead, both physically and mentally,’ Lain concludes. ‘When well equipped with the necessary skills and attitudes, rangers are able to perform better, both as individuals and as part of a team, and they are better prepared to engage effectively with the people they encounter during their patrols and the surrounding communities.’

This article was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of IUCN NL and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

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