The Wildlife Ranger Challenge

The Wildlife Ranger Challenge

The Wildlife Ranger Challenge has happened twice since we’ve all ‘been away’.

This is a run carried out by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) rangers and challenger teams through Murchison Falls National Park (Murchison), over a course of twenty-one kilometres, carrying 22kg of weight!

Wildlife Ranger Challenge 2020 and 2021

The inaugural race was in 2020 and hosted just three teams. UWA ranger teams from Queen Elizabeth (QE) and Murchison, and the ‘Old Fogies’ team – comprising the then Defence Attaché of the British High Commission (BHC), Lt Col Matt Edwards, Michael Wokorach, Captain of Uganda Rugby, Charles Tumwesigye, Director of Field Operations UWA and Michael Keigwin of Uganda Conservation Foundation (UCF).

The last 5 kms of this race took place during a torrential thunderstorm when the runners could no longer detect the difference between the river and the banks! However, all teams completed the course finishing with much mirth as they splashed in puddles both shallow and deep!

WRC 2021 Wokorach Ug Rugby Captain
WRC 2021 Wokorach Ug Rugby Captain
WRC 2020 Training
WRC 2020 Training

The 2021 Wildlife Ranger Challenge had seven teams including from QE, MF and Kidepo National Parks, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, UCF’s community scouts from surrounding villages, the Uganda ‘All Stars’ (Murchison Warden in Charge of Law Enforcement, a representative from the Uganda Police and a Major from the UPDF), and of course the ‘Old Fogies’ the BHC Defence Attaché Lt Col Toby Barrington-Barnes, Director of Tourism at Marasa Africa Mike Sanders, Andrew Owor the Vice Chairman of Africa Rugby, and Special Forces medic from the British SAS (who was best placed in this team!).

The teams set off from the airstrip and raced to the Delta, with other rangers and cars ahead making sure the lions, buffaloes and elephants were away from the track for safety. Once at the finishing line Paraa Lodge welcomed everyone with breakfast and refreshments, along with friends, families and sponsors.

Wildlife ranger challenge 2020 Old Fogies team
WRC 2020 – Old Fogies team

Each team’s time was taken as the last member of the team crossed the finishing line. At the same time, over 200 other ranger teams from across Africa and around the world were also participating, and raising critical funds for supporting rangers on the front line and park operations.

There is a lot of pride at stake, and whilst Murchison won the 2020 race, QE obliterated a strong field in 2021. Kidepo, having never done the race before that, have grasped the challenge and now look like firm favourites for the 2022 race!

The now ‘global’ challenge was designed by a number of organisations across Africa, co-ordinated by Tusk Trust. In Uganda, UCF co-ordinates the Wildlife Ranger Challenge and hosts the event every year in Murchison Falls. The event which has been especially important during the torrid times hit by COVID-19 and concurrently, the River Nile’s quite exceptional flooding. Every month for twenty months, UCF supported UWA in Murchison and QE, paying for frontline operational and maintenance costs.

Where tourism revenues would normally have covered the operational costs, without tourism, inevitably UWA’s own operational budgeting was incredibly hard hit. UCF’s support included fuelling and maintaining frontline cars, motorbikes and boats, feeding and equipping rangers, providing frontline patrol tents, supporting emergency road and ranger post repairs, communications and logistics improvements and costs, and of course sanitiser and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

What must not be forgotten either, is the support the UCF ‘Recovery of Murchison Falls’ programme provided, including the Community and Youth Development programme, which has for three years helped more than 100 youths and families affected by elephant crop raiding and more recently the River Nile flooding, and the impacts related to COVID. Many of these youths are from poaching families who agreed to stop supporting or poaching once their youths were provided with vocational training courses, apprenticeships, and ultimately actual employment.

This meant that UWA, with the support of UCF could continue with the operational business of problem animal control, anti-poaching and security, UWA’s vet response unit (UCF also provided the response car, the vet lab and dart gun) that have been removed in the recent past over 500 snares from the Rothschild’s Giraffe in Murchison, as well as the reality of answering the welfare needs of all those who work in the parks; and all this whilst still protecting the inhabitants and the wildlife and working with the communities – effectively their greatest partners- to minimise crop raiding and conflict.

It is important for everyone to recognise how carefully managed and well governed UWA has been during this incredibly difficult time. The challenges they face are at times beyond belief, but their integrity and professionalism have been fantastic to witness.

According to Mr. Sam Mwandha Executive Director UWA:

‘the Wildlife Ranger Challenge gave everyone an opportunity to help raise funds for critical frontline rangers across Africa – whose salaries, and critical operational costs disappeared due to the impacts of COVID. We can’t thank UCF and the WRC partners enough for their foresight, positivness and energy; it helped us all tremendously.’

Ranger kit MFs 2021
Ranger kit MFs 2021

Today, tourists have an abundance of wildlife to discover and enjoy in Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Parks with both parks recovering extremely well.

This is clearly a product which the world must recognise as one of the top 10 National Parks.

With wildlife numbers recovering so successfully, UWA has assured tourism’s contribution to Uganda’s GDP with the greatest potential for growth of any sector.

The 2022 Wildlife Ranger Challenge will be in late September.

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