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A day in the life of a ranger

Date: 31st July 2013

A day in the life of a ranger working to secure the picture-perfect Garden Route National Park. 

A typical day in the life of a ranger serving in the Garden Route starts at 07:30 am. Rangers are stationed in all sections of the Park, Wilderness, Knysna and Tsitsikamma. Dressed in their SANParks khaki/ olive gear, they’re often seen patrolling the lakes areas of the Park or camouflaging in the forest areas. ‘They’re not out to catch you’ says General Manager of the Garden Route National Park, Jill Bunding-Venter. She adds that rangers actively protect the picture-perfect lakes and jaw-dropping forests of the Park. These natural treasures which might someday become a World Heritage site for their biodiversity and cultural heritage significance are a perfect haven for those looking for peace of mind. Adventure seekers are also heading to the Garden Route to explore its endless walking, hiking and cycling trails in the mystical Knysna and world-renowned Tsitsikamma forests. 

Rangers themselves record wonders they encounter during patrols in their ‘observation book’ which is always in their toolkit. Although roles of rangers differ according to seniority, generic roles include the protection of the Park through the enforcement of environmental legislation. Rangers working in the Park’s lakes areas are faced with trying to stop people from ‘illegally collecting bait for fishing mostly through digging on saltmarshes, netting, operating boats without a Competence Certificate, and trying to keep the area clean.’ They also protect the lakes and water sources from over-fishing and are opposed to the poaching of fish. 

They receive regular training from SANParks and learn best on the job. Statistics of species relevant for their work is often shared among rangers (also part of their toolkit). An addition to this year’s toolkit, is a poster with ecologically significant coastal and estuarine fish caught in the Garden Route. Kyle Smith, SANParks marine ecologist is leading this discussion with rangers. Work in this regard is starting with an identification of ‘collapsed species’ implying the population numbers are dwindling. These include the ‘60 centimeter dusky hob, the 70 centimeter Leervis/ Garrick, the 35 centimeter Galjoen and the 60 centimeter white steenbras.’ This information is applicable to the entire Garden Route and not specific areas. (see attached poster to identify collapsed and other fish). Rangers working in the lagoon 2 area in Knysna say citizens often alert them if they spot any sinister activity in the estuary. 

They are planning to tackle illegalities head on through cementing ties with friendly neighbours Pezula Private Estate and Knysna Municipality. They will share lessons learnt and chart a way forward in a closed session event with stakeholders and the media in the Pezula Private Estate on International Rangers Day (31st July 2013). ‘We’re seeing cooperative governance and holding hands with civilians as the best way to protect the country’s number 1 lagoon’ says area manager for Knysna, Andre Riley. SANParks works closely with the Knysna Municipality to keep the Knysna estuary clean. Riley says rangers also monitor recreational activities and have put up signage to warn against areas not considered safe for recreational purposes such as swimming.’ 

Similarly rangers working in the forest are often caught in difficult situations. People walk their dogs even when the law inhibits this. ‘Pets are not allowed in the Park or any protected area’ says Mzwandile Mjadu, area manager of the Wilderness section. The Forest Act and other environmental legislations forbid it including the Act on biodiversity conservation (NEMBA). This is due to the potential diseases birds and other animals in the Park can contract. So while this matter is still under discussion with Park management, the decision to ‘zone’ off certain areas during certain seasons in favour of pet owners might be a medium-term option. Rangers currently issue fines to anyone walking pets in a protected area. 

‘It’s this stern law enforcement role some citizens are opposed to’ says Lesley Anne-Meyer, manager of the Tsitsikamma section of the Park. This section of the Park chooses to commemorate Rangers Day by going into communities to create environmental awareness in partnership with Cape Nature. Her team will go all out to educate leaners and citizens about the Park. 

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