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Meet Team Lioness: the Kenyan women transforming what it means to be a wildlife ranger

Meet Team Lioness: the Kenyan women transforming what it means to be a wildlife ranger
Source: Paolo Torchio/IFAW

IFAW’s all-female ranger team in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park risk their lives daily to protect wildlife from poaching.

Team Lioness: forging a new path for women rangers in Kenya

Maasai women in Kenya are deeply connected to their communities and land, making them key proponents to local conservation efforts. They have insider knowledge and unique perspectives to offer male ranger units, but until recent times they lacked opportunities to get involved on a professional level. Then in 2019, the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) tenBoma wildlife security team created Team Lioness: one of the first all-women ranger units in Kenya. Chosen based on leadership, academic achievements, and integrity, the team of eight young Maasai women are defying constraining social norms and creating new opportunities for women.

Based under the Olgulului Community Wildlife Rangers (OCWR) on the border of Tanzania and Kenya, Team Lioness protects the traditional Maasai community land that surrounds Amboseli National Park.
The Team Lioness rangers are the first women in the history of their families to secure employment. Based under the Olgulului Community Wildlife Rangers (OCWR) on the border of Tanzania and Kenya, Team Lioness protects the traditional Maasai community land that surrounds Amboseli National Park. Source: Paolo Torchio/IFAW
The rangers serve as the first line of defense against the poaching and retaliatory killing of elephants, lions, giraffes, cheetahs, and other iconic wildlife who frequent the land’s wildlife corridors.
Rangers oversee the destruction of impounded elephant tusks to stop them reaching the black market once and for all. The rangers serve as the first line of defense against the poaching and retaliatory killing of elephants, lions, giraffes, cheetahs, and other iconic wildlife who frequent the land’s wildlife corridors. Source: Paolo Torchio/IFAW
The Covid-19 pandemic has decimated tourism revenues and left donor-funded wildlife conservation hanging in the balance.
The community land patrolled by Team Lioness includes iconic migratory wildlife corridors that are used by Amboseli’s 2,000+ elephants. The Covid-19 pandemic has decimated tourism revenues and left donor-funded wildlife conservation hanging in the balance. Source: Paolo Torchio/IFAW

Due to covid-19 the rangers have been on duty for months

Every day rangers put themselves at risk to save wildlife. Patrolling the bush for weeks at a time, they always look forward to that much-needed break to connect with family and friends at home. 

However, for most rangers, COVID-19 ended that. Considered a critical service by the leaders of the OOGR, the rangers have been obliged to remain on duty for months at a time, not knowing when to expect a few days at home. 

The work of Team Lioness and the rest of a 76-strong group of rangers in Group Ranch is supported by IFAW. Since 2012, IFAW has collaborated with the local community members of OOGR in Amboseli to secure 26,000 acres of critical wildlife migratory and dispersal habitat. 

IFAW has transformed this land to the Kitenden Community Wildlife Conservancy aimed at providing livelihoods for communities through tourism development and investment, as well as being a protected wildlife habitat.

Source: IFAW

This has put more pressure on Team Lioness and other community rangers because they are forced to patrol larger areas.
In neighbouring Tanzania, many rangers have lost their jobs as tourism has dwindled. This has put more pressure on Team Lioness and other community rangers because they are forced to patrol larger areas. Source: Paolo Torchio/IFAW
The rangers patrol the Olugului/Olarashi Group Ranch (OOGR), a 580-square-mile horseshoe of community-owned land that almost encircles Amboseli National Park, a safari destination 134 miles southeast of Nairobi.
Children run to welcome Purity Amleset Lakara, a member of the all-female IFAW-supported Team Lioness on her arrival at her home village in Meshenani, Amboseli, in Kenya. The rangers patrol the Olugului/Olarashi Group Ranch (OOGR), a 580-square-mile horseshoe of community-owned land that almost encircles Amboseli National Park, a safari destination 134 miles southeast of Nairobi. Source: Paolo Torchio/IFAW/CNN
When Kenya closed its regional and international borders and the tourism industry and livestock markets on which the community depends disappeared, OCWR canceled all leave and asked its rangers, including Team Lioness, to stay at their posts indefinitely to protect wildlife from desperate poachers.
A typical day for Team Lioness might begin at 5 a.m. with a run and breakfast, followed by a briefing and morning patrol, which typically takes four hours. When Kenya closed its regional and international borders and the tourism industry and livestock markets on which the community depends disappeared, OCWR canceled all leave and asked its rangers, including Team Lioness, to stay at their posts indefinitely to protect wildlife from desperate poachers. Source: Paolo Torchio/IFAW/CNN

IFAW supports rangers in countries across Africa and the Middle East, in India and China

Constantly under threat from armed poachers and, sometimes, dangerous wildlife, the pandemic has made the work of team Lioness more treacherous than ever. Due to the collapse of tourism, wildlife agencies around the region (Kenya included) have had to cut back on their operations due to loss of revenue. 

In the absence of regular patrols to act as a deterrence, the risk of losing wildlife to poaching is real. As a preemptive measure, IFAW has ensured that these community rangers step-up their patrols in order to keep wildlife secure, hence the long stay away from their loved ones. 

IFAW supports rangers around the world in countries across Africa and the Middle East, in India and China. With a catastrophic drop-off in tourism numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these countries now lack the income from their national parks and protected areas to support their rangers.

IFAW is supporting more than 350 rangers in the field with protective gear, rations for rangers and the fuel needed to enable wildlife protectors to prevent poachers from targeting animals in remote areas. 

In Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, IFAW has supported 4,160 extra litres of fuel allowing rangers to patrol wilderness areas hundreds of kilometres from their bases; more than 2,350 protective items like masks, gloves and sanitiser have also been distributed.

Source: IFAW

The women were away from their families for months while they worked the bush. Now that the country is cautiously yet optimistically opening and safari visitors are returning, the rangers are finally able to return to their villages, two by two.
Community ranger Eunice Mantei Nkapaiya sits with her colleagues in their camp. The women were away from their families for months while they worked the bush. Now that the country is cautiously yet optimistically opening and safari visitors are returning, the rangers are finally able to return to their villages, two by two. Source: Will Swanson/IFAW/CNN
Team Lioness was established by the global nonprofit International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in early 2019 after Maasai community leader Kiruyan Katamboi, affectionately referred to as Mama Esther, challenged the organisation to employ women from the community as rangers.
Being a ranger is a challenging job, but the rangers say the forced separation from their families has been the worst part. Team Lioness was established by the global nonprofit International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in early 2019 after Maasai community leader Kiruyan Katamboi, affectionately referred to as Mama Esther, challenged the organisation to employ women from the community as rangers. Source: Paolo Torchio/IFAW/CNN
Unlike the Kenya Wildlife Service, which patrols the Amboseli National Park, the OCWR are unarmed, so have to rely on skill when dealing with dangerous animals or violent people and call KWS for back-up if they think a situation might turn nasty.
After four months in the field Ruth Sekeita Losiaik a member of the IFAW-supported Team Lioness, was reunited with her two-year-old son Bonham Shirim. Unlike the Kenya Wildlife Service, which patrols the Amboseli National Park, the OCWR are unarmed, so have to rely on skill when dealing with dangerous animals or violent people and call KWS for back-up if they think a situation might turn nasty. Source: Paolo Torchio/IFAW/CNN
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