Meet the “Green” Berets

Armed eco-troops might be Mother Nature’s last defense


| November-December 2008



Ranger Kalibumba stood no chance. Five bullets tore into his chest and abdomen as he attempted to intercept a fleeing gunman who’d just stolen a motorcycle and killed its owner. A wildlife ranger based in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kalibumba died shortly after being shot. He was 36 years old and left behind eight children.

Kalibumba is the latest in a long line of rangers to perish while defending the Congo’s abundant wildlife and rich ecosystems, and the latest victim of a disturbing global pattern of killings, violent attacks, and persecution of those working on the front line of environmental protection.

According to the International Ranger Federation, more than a hundred national park wardens, rangers, and wildlife and forest guards have died or been seriously injured in recent years across Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the United States. The dossier reads with disturbing monotony: “killed in firefight with rebels”; “shot by loggers”; “murdered”; “assassinated”; “shot in armed robbery”; “[shot] with his own sidearm.”

In response, nongovernmental organizations, aid organizations, law-enforcement agencies, and governments are scrambling to train, equip, fund, and better organize rangers and wardens. Increasingly, that’s meant providing arms and military-style training, particularly to those in conflict-ravaged regions.

Recent years have seen a number of private “eco-militias” established in several African countries, often with the tacit support of governments that find themselves unable to effectively police their natural resources.

Bruce Hayse, a U.S. doctor and environmental campaigner, sparked headlines in 2001 after the president of the Central African Republic granted him permission to raise a mercenary force to combat poachers decimating the country’s wildlife and terrorizing villagers.

Jeffery Biss
11/3/2008 3:53:54 PM

While violence against those that slaughter for fun and profit is a valid tool it is not the answer to the dilema. Driving human populations down to sustainable levels, through family planning, immplementing fair and equitable policies, and recognizing our universal obligations as moral beings to those living things we do not value are the high level bullet points that are. This means that the real question is whether we in the first World can cast off the right-wing paradigms, such as Milton Friedman's "business has no obligations but profit" maxims and religious "god created the world for our use" theologies, we have been operating under. If we continue to operate under delusion then violence will only escalate and all will eventually be lost as the local populations grow and the only economic salvation is short-term, obtained from destroying wildlife and its habitat.