The Rangers, The Fight and The Resilience on Nature’s Frontline with The Thin Green Line Foundation – Ep 8, Season 2

Today we’re talking to a foundation that supports wildlife Rangers and their families. Now, today’s conversation has some really inspiring stories from the frontline but there is also information on ranger livelihood and violence they’ve encountered that some listeners may find distressing.

But if you’re still here, I would love to introduce you to today’s guest, Sean Willmore, who is the Founder and Managing Director of The Thin Green Line Foundation, a foundation that protects nature’s protectors, of which it’s estimated that over 1,000 park rangers have been killed in the line of duty over the last 10 years. Sean, also a former Australian park ranger has travelled to and worked with rangers in over 50 countries on six continents, where he has been ambushed, held at gunpoint, charged by elephants and avoided armed military. His efforts to bring attention to the dangerous work undertaken by these warriors has secured him international acclaim. He used profits from the documentary The Thin Green Line to start The Thin Green Line Foundation 11 years ago.

They provide vital support through a wide range of effective programs from on the ground training to equipment for rangers that are often sent off to work unprepared, unarmed and in extreme conditions, where they’re challenged by poaches, armed military and even climate change. The foundation also supports families and communities of fallen park rangers.

They work predominantly in developing nations and conflict zones and with indigenous park rangers within Australia and abroad. They’re the only organisation solely dedicated to providing rangers worldwide with the assistance they deserve and need, and are the official charity arm of the International Ranger Federation.

Today, Sean takes us back to where it all started – The Thin Green Line Foundation, what a day in the life of a wildlife ranger looks like and the sacrifices they make. There are some heartbreaking stories and some beautiful ones. I look forward to sharing the work of his incredible foundation with you today. And I hope you enjoy the episode.

Sean, thank you for joining me on PROTECT today.

Sean: Thank you, Angela. Good to be here.

Angela: Yes, lovely to have you here. So The Thin Green Line foundation. Tell us how the idea came about?

Sean: Well, yeah, it’s a bit convoluted. I’ve never had the ambition to start a charity organisation to support Rangers. I was a ranger myself and I went to an International Ranger Conference where I used to work at the southern end of Australia called Wilson’s Promontory National Park. I met rangers from the Congo and from all over Africa and Asia and Latin America and sitting by a fire one night one of them pulled back his shirt and showed us a bullet hole where he’d been shot. Another ranger from Malawi, Gervase, his name was from Malawi pulled back his hair and showed us where he’d been macheted in the head. And they said it so nonchalantly, like “Oh yeah, it’s part of work,” and obviously, those rangers that where there me included that don’t normally go through that as a Ranger, were kind of like amazed.

And then I think the next day, the Ranger from Congo might have showed like a football team photo of all the Rangers together at the start of the year. And he had six heads circled out of the 40 or so. He said that the photo was taken five years ago, and the ones with their heads circled are the only ones still alive, the rest are all gone and killed in the line of duty by militias and poachers and other people. And so anyway, it dawned on me that there was this pretty serious issue going on with Rangers, but you know, not to be too full on like, they also told some amazing stories about their work and life.

You know, working with gorillas in the jungles, and you know, protecting tigers. And so really inspiring and funny stories. Like they have amazingly funny stories to do with nature and stuff as well, like being chased up a tree by an elephant and then realising there are six lions in the tree above you.

So it’s just inspiring, basically, and I went around the world not with the ambition of starting The Thin Green Line, but with the ambition of actually meeting them being on their own patch, and then making a film to kind of help spread the word about what is the situation for Rangers around the world. From that film, I was going to raise a little bit of money, hopefully and give that to an organisation to look after the widows of the Rangers killed because there’s no workers compensation for them. And then I’d go back to being a ranger. It didn’t work that way. It worked a little bit differently that I went to give the money and the then president of the International Ranger Federation said, “Hey, we’re not a charity, we’re a representative body, we need a charity arm. Why don’t you take this film concept and turn it into the charity?” And I said, “How do I do that?” And he said, “You’ve got this, you’re working out.” And I sat on the plane and as serendipity would happen, sat next to a lawyer who started charities and from that day on, they’ve been our pro bono lawyer and that’s how Thin Green Line was born and so it was born out of pure need of the Rangers to have an organisation that was solely about looking after them so that they could do the conservation work that we all want them to do. So yeah, no ambition to have the charity and just out of pure need of the Rangers for training equipment, the basics to do the job. And then the Fallen Ranger Fund to support the families of those Rangers lost.

Angela: Great story, Sean, and a very happy coincidence with the lawyer on the plane.

Sean: Yeah, well, that’s the interesting thing. Jane Goodall is now an ambassador for The Thin Green Line Foundation and I spoke to her about all the serendipity that happens when you do this kind of work. I sold my car to keep the foundation going and then I bought an old crap box that died and you know, I needed a new car, not a new car, just a car. And a week later, someone rings up says, “Hey, I saw your stuff on TV. Would you like a car to help with the charity work? I own a car dealership.” And I went, “Yeah, that’d be cool.” And it was a week after my other had car broken down. Anyway, I spoke to Jane about all the serendipity that happens and people just signing up right at the right time, or getting behind you, whatever way. And she explained that it’s like when you do something that’s of integrity and that means something to other people and the planet. It’s like you’re connecting to this power board of other people doing the same thing. And then you find each other. And she said it happens to her all the time. Yeah. So that lawyer was on the plane next to me. And I was just went Oh, there you go. Guess what? I’m starting a charity.

Angela: You certainly are and here you are.

Sean: Yeah, that conversation was 15 years ago on the plane. So now we’re 14 years old. Officially, the concept probably sounded a bit before that. But yeah, officially 14 to 15 years old.

Angela: Okay. And you started alone.

Sean: I kind of started alone, but with the support of water Rangers around the world. So I said to the Rangers and the International Ranger Federation said, “Hey, we need this.” I said, “Well, how do I do it?” “You’ll work it out.” I sat next to that lawyer and then I had some big decisions to make for myself. So I was happy as a Ranger, I was in a good relationship, you know, pretty comfortable life in Australia. And then I just changed things up, I sold the car, remortgaged the house, unfortunately broke up with my fiance at the time.

Yeah, I changed my life, and I went around the world to make that film and then from the film, got on The 7.30 report, some people decide to start supporting my work a little bit here and there, it all really counted. I quit being a Ranger, so I could finish the film and start the charity. And so a couple years after the initial concept, I was no longer a Ranger, but working for Rangers around the world and that’s become my life’s mission, since. Yes, I’ve had to remortgage my house a few more times, and then sell my house to keep it going. That was a while ago now. But now we’re in a strong position with a really good operations team, and really good board and a bunch of other really good people that support us. So what I do it again? Yeah, yeah, I would, I mean, the inspiration for it all is the Rangers that we work with, and the people on the ground. I mean, they’re doing it much tougher than I am. I’ve made some choices. But yeah, I’ve got choices to make. And that’s part of my philosophy, I suppose, too, is that those of us with opportunities need to use them.

Angela: Yep, yep, definitely. You’ve made some sacrifices. Thank you, Sean.

So let’s talk about the Wildlife Rangers. I’d like to know about their day, I watched one of your YouTube clips about how they work in conflict zones, they’re fighting poachers and they’re not always equipped, both mentally or physically with arms, some really crazy situations. So what’s it really like for a Ranger in these conditions,

Sean: A lot of Rangers around the world do it pretty tough. They’re all really passionate. I’ve worked in 80 something countries with Rangers on the ground, I’ve patrolled with them and slept in the forest, under the trees with them and under the stars and have been ambushed with him and been charged by elephants with them. So I’ve got to feel a little bit but I’ve got the luxury of a passport back to Australia, you see. And I can come and I suppose recalibrate when I’m back here and get my stuff together.

Sean: But I’ll put it to you this way. I was in Congo, in DRC. I was ambushed, twice while I was there like with ak 47’s, and whatnot. And one of the Rangers said to me, Sean, that’s pretty normal. That’s not the problem being ambushed for us. He says, I’ve had a run with my children. I think he said five times under my arms with bullets flying. Because they were they were in eastern DRC. There’s one of the militia groups, and they’re protecting mountain gorillas and lowland gorillas and you know, iconic species that we all want protected but this is what it takes to protect them. He said, I’ve had to run with my kids five times under my arms while bullets are flying, because they’re coming to the Ranger compound and basically trying to take us out. He said, it’s not the bullets and the guns that’s the problem, it’s knowing when it’s coming. You know it’s the anxiety of, Is it coming in five minutes, five hours, five days, five months. I can’t relax. I’ve always got to be on.

It actually made me realise because I actually left DRC and went across to Uganda where it’s a lot safer. I felt the adrenaline wash off that I’ve been living in for about two or three weeks while being in that part of the world in the war zone. So yeah we were ambushed twice we had stuff going on it was pretty full on but once again i had the passport. I was leaving you know and i felt the adrenaline rush away and I thought geez, imagine being on that adrenaline – and it’s the same for people in war zones.  Imagine being at that level of adrenaline all the time, it’s exhausting.

And yeah so for those Rangers in those extremes conditions it’s really hard and you don’t have basic equipment, on top of that you get malaria and dengue fever because no one’s bothered to give you a mosquito net. You’re drinking you know fouled water in many places. I’ve been places where Rangers have to drink the same water the elephant’s bathe in with no water purification so they get sick. You get no uniforms or training your wages just enough to survive on for your family and then you’re isolated from your family for most of the year. So if you’re lucky, a lot of Rangers have come home and their children have called them uncle because they didn’t recognise them because they’ve been away for the whole year in the forest protecting all the animals that we care about so i think it’s really good for the listeners to realise what Rangers around the world have to do to make sure our species that we care about are protected. The same species we read our kids books about. There’s Rangers doing it real tough to make sure that they’re there. And they’re succeeding like the mountain gorillas.

When i first started doing this work i was aware there was about 700 mountain gorillas left in the whole world, I think now it’s about 1,200 mountain gorillas so it’s gone up. The amount of mountain gorillas has gone up but if you ever look in the area where those mountain gorillas have increased in population the amount of Rangers that have died in doing that is quite large.  I mean Virunga alone I think has lost over 100 and something Rangers in the last 15 years – Virunga National Park in Congo. So there’s a sacrifice there and i suppose if that’s what Thin Green Lines modus operandi uses to get that support to the Rangers and whether it be training so they can save themselves like we do a Lead Ranger Project which trains Rangers to be trainers themselves so they train all the other Rangers in say remote first aid and that’s already saved 14 lives of Rangers and community too so we train them up in anti poaching and all sorts of stuff. Fire protection and the Rangers do a lot more than just anti poaching too and then provide them basic equipment.

We had Patagonia the company give us a million dollars worth of uniforms to give to Rangers which has been really well received and then we have secondhand uniforms from from other Ranger groups that we pass on and then the Fallen Ranger Fund as well so looking after families left behind. I mean that’s really important because the Fallen Ranger Fund is not just important for the family left behind usually a wife and kids maybe five to six kids maybe more to keep them in school, to get food on the table to maybe provide a little so they can start a business. That’s a real signal to the other Rangers though, it’s really important to the other Rangers because they go, “Hang on if something happens to me, my family will be looked after”. Won’t be left destitute so it’s a really important signal to them that the world respects them and i suppose everything I just mentioned, the training equipment, the Fallen Ranger Fund all that equals respect for what the Rangers sacrifice to protect all these iconic species and natural areas that we all not take for granted but we all want to see protected, I hope. So yeah it’s just respect.

Angela: So are you saying some of them will undertake the work and not have those provisions straight away – they’re just sent out there. No training, the incorrect equipment or no protection?

Sean: Yeah, look some of them might get some basic training and whether that becomes instilled and day to day behaviours is another thing. So is it maintained, is it the right training to start with. The gear is often very basic, maybe a uniform if they’re lucky, maybe a pair of boots if they’re lucky but they quickly run out after a year and especially they’re working in tough terrain. Yeah the basic stuff that they often need, mosquito nets to stop getting malaria, water filtration, just even a tarp to keep the rain off them while they’re on patrol for a month because they can go on patrol for a month and not see home from you know or not even home just back to base for a month. Even a hat, you know like to shield from the sun even food provisions to take rations on patrol. Rangers don’t get a lot of that stuff so there’s there’s big gaps, there’s big gaps but you know some of the areas where we’ve been working it’s amazing what it does when you can boost a Ranger’s morale by giving them that stuff.

Like giving them a mosquito net – their morale goes through the roof for a $5 mosquito net. “Oh someone cares about me that i get malaria eight times this year”.  And one area we gave 5,000 mosquito nets, it was around the Uganda, Virunga area Congo and Uganda. Rangers were getting malaria eight times a year between five to eight times. We worked out that they are now with one mosquito net they’ll getting it once maybe just to save days not being sick with malaria they could be on patrol. It worked out to be from those 5,000 mosquito nets 23 extra full time Ranger jobs of days not sick if you put it all together. So just $5 makes a difference and the boost of morale from the Rangers, then they get the uniforms and they get the training and then they get a living wage and they go hang on i’m actually respected as a  Ranger.

The fastest growing sector of Rangers is community Rangers, Indigenous Rangers around the world. So you get Maasai I who trained and equipped, they get taught remote first aid. Well, they’re the only person in their whole region who’s got remote first aid skills. So now the whole community turns to them and says, Hey, someone’s been injured. Can you help us? And they do, of course. So now it becomes the Rangers are a community asset as well, not just about saying no to stuff. So there’s all these spin offs about having Rangers respected and looked after. But the answer is no, many Rangers do not enter their jobs fully trained, fully equipped, ready to go. Not at all, not the least.

Angela: It just shows that a really small item or investment can be quite impactful. So from your experience from Rangers you know, and yourself working as a Ranger, what are some of the reasons that they’re undertaking this work? As well as providing for their family, is it their need to protect, their integrity to animals are the land. What have you found?

Sean: Look, it’s probably a mixture, but there’s a couple of common threads. One is they’re really passionate about protecting nature, they’re connected, especially with the community Rangers, they’ve been brought up there, they live there, they know what, they’ve got pride in themselves and pride in what they do. It’s a pretty big responsibility to look after life. You know, I’ve met Rangers that have mourned the animals when they’ve been poached. Like, they would mourn one of their own families, or they, they’re in grief. And understandably, so they spend their whole life being trying to protect these animals, and you know, sacrifice a lot to do it. And then because of no fault of their own, somebody is able to get in there and, and poach that animal or something, then, you know, they really feel it. It’s like a bit of trauma for them.

So why do they do it? I think, yeah, they want to do the right thing. And they want to look their own kids in the eyes, too, and say, Hey, I’m protecting the species from disappearing or protecting this landscape, or, you know, our community is safer here, because the animals are here and because the animals are here, there’s other people helping us and so there’s pride as well. So they’re proud to wear that uniform and say I’m a Ranger doing good work, you know.

So yeah, whenever I met those Ranger, it’s something that sits inside. It’s quite powerful. And when you go to an International Ranger Congress, which is held every four years, the feeling in that room is like no other. There’s a shared value or shared passion. And you know, when I made the film, originally, I emailed all those Rangers from around the world and said, “Hey, I’ve got this idea to make this film. What do you think should I do?” And every Ranger just said, come. And not only did they say come, but they picked me up the airport, they took me to their homes. I slept on the side of the volcanic mountains with them in their in their Ranger huts, and they put me up wherever they could. It wasn’t just a job. It’s about hey, yeah, you’re a Ranger, you can come and do whatever you like, come with us. So it’s a family.

There’s a shared value, you know, with what Rangers are doing now with you know, climate mitigation, protecting forests, stopping zoonotic diseases getting out, protecting biodiversity. In the midst of one of the great extinctions from disappearing. I can’t think of a job, and I say that loosely job because it’s not really a job. It’s just a life’s work, really, for Rangers. But I can’t think of a job that has so much responsibility and so much integrity as what Rangers do, and probably importance. And because you’re the frontline of what we’re all talking about. If we’re going to keep life going on this planet, as we know it will Rangers are the front line. And that’s why I do the work. Yeah,

Angela: Very powerful. Thank you, Sean. And it’s urgent, critical work. So is it still the current statistic that we’ve lost around 1,000 Rangers? And can you let us know any other statistics, you know, about how many Rangers are out there? And just a little, I guess, a light discussion on some of the injuries that they can incur, and how we can support them?

Sean: Yeah, so when we started the honour roll to to honour the Rangers lost in the line of duty, and also pay out some support to the families, keep the kids in school and set up small jobs, we are aware of about 100 Rangers per year that were being killed in the line of duty. Now, we knew that that wasn’t all the data because some countries we couldn’t get the data. The network was still spreading the information wasn’t all coming towards us, because we’re new.

Now, unfortunately, it’s about 150, a year that we’re aware of. And we’re not saying it’s increasing necessarily. Although it could be we’re just getting more data because more people know they can apply for funding to us to support the families left behind. So that’s one thing and our network through the International Ranger Federation has grown with more Ranger associations forming and so there’s more networks to give us that information when a Ranger’s lost and to either provide support or just at least put them on the honour roll for World Ranger Day. But unfortunately, the last two years it’s up at about 150 Rangers per year. It varies year to year how the Rangers have lost but unfortunately majority are homicide so then they’re murdered in the line of work by poachers or militia or other people. Then accidents with the animals they actually protect. So a human wildlife conflict. So it could be elephants or could be whatever Rhino or animals they’re protecting. And then it’s just accidents, the dangerous nature of the work being in remote locations being on patrol from it.

So that’s where the training comes in for us to – like a lot of the deaths can be avoidable if they get the right training, to either avoid the accident, or even whether it be in anti poaching, where they’re coming up against people with guns, how to approach that situation properly. So we got some really great experts teaching the Rangers to be trained in that area as well. So avoidance of death first, but still doing your job. And then if something does happen, how do you treat it? So that’s a remote first aid. So we’re seeing that making a difference already. We’re only a small organisation. So we’re rolling it out as we can, but where we are doing it, we’re seeing it have an impact. So it does work. Training, equipping, it’s reducing the deaths of Rangers. And unfortunately, drownings comes up a bit too. So you know, you get big events, natural events that that occur, and Rangers are on patrol and might not have learned to swim. So this stuff happens. So some of that’s because they’re not used to swimming just from where they’ve grown up, whether it be inland or not the rivers. Yeah, some of it’s just that some natural disasters occur. So we’re going to, we’re going to focus on two things, we’re going to focus on the training for the Rangers to prevent those deaths and equipping and then also step up the Fallen Ranger Fund so when somebody is lost, that we can support them, support their families.

Angela: Sounds like a very thoughtful program and protecting them is crucial. So you touched on it earlier, Sean, but what else are Ranger’s protecting beyond animals such as forests, natural spaces, communities?

Sean: I suppose it’s a tendency for us to focus on animals because that’s what people like to automate a lot. But yeah, it’s the trees. It’s the ecosystem is the rivers. It’s the mountains. It’s, it’s the whole thing together. So when Rangers are doing an elephant focus patrol or Rhino focus patrol there, they’re actually there protecting everything. So that might be the focus or might be the keystone species or the iconic species, but it’s certainly they’re protecting everything out there. I mean, we’ve had Rangers that sadly lost their lives. 

A community Ranger I remember in Pakistan, he lost his life because he was trying to stop illegal loggers chopping down trees in Pakistan in the community owned forest, or community managed forest and he was being paid $10 a month as a Ranger in this community part of Pakistan and he lost his life trying to protect these trees. Ranger Akrum,  I remember his name was.

Angela: That was his remuneration?

Sean: Yeah, $10 a month.

Angela: Oh, my God, okay.

Sean: You know, I get used to dealing unfortunately, you get used to dealing with it. We deal with three deaths of Rangers a week. Every now and then one gets through that gets to you quite emotionally because you have to just deal with them. But this one, I read this guy’s account. And you know, without going into graphic detail, he actually approached the six illegal loggers and said, hey, you’ve got to go. This is a community protected area. Trees are protected. You can’t chop them down. They said no, go away. They had ak 47’s and axes and he’s one Ranger by himself, unarmed, doing his job saying go away.

We found out later they offered him a month’s bribe. So his $10. And he said no, they offered him two, three. And we found out later after six months, half a year salary. They said we’ll give you money now just go away. He refused. Now with proper training, you’d probably say hey, mate, go away and come back with reinforcements. That probably wasn’t possible for him. But I can’t fault his integrity and Ranger Akram lost his life. They they shot him with the AK-47. He didn’t die straightaway. So they got their axes and beheaded him. And that’s the thanks he got for being a ranger with integrity in Pakistan, looking after the forest.

Now their family, they’re all living in a tent, in the community area, his whole family so he could do that job. And now we’re going to be left destitute as well. We supported that family. Yeah, that one got through to me, because I was just aware of some bull***t with politicians and the way they were carrying on about something with a lack of integrity and I just read this story about this guy with the utmost integrity and it just got through to me, and I just remember, silent Tears are rolling down my cheeks. And I was well, I can’t fault this guy at all in terms of his integrity, like, it would have been obvious. He knew they had guns. He knew they had axes. He was one they were six. He wasn’t going to go away. He wasn’t going to abandon his role. And wow, what a guy now, I do wish that we would have got to him with training beforehand, absolutely. And other support so he could have avoided being one of those stats, but you know, we’ve got to honour someone like that and support their family, but also honour them with the honour roll and World Ranger date, which is July 31.

Each year, we asked people to hold up a sign saying “I stand with the World’s Rangers.” And you know, his name’s on that on a roll that year. And there’s an ongoing honour roll as well, you know, to stand with those Rangers, because unfortunately, too many are losing their lives. Your listeners may be aware of Virunga, we lost another six in Virunga National Park recently in the Congo in one incident, and I think in an incident before that there’s 13 others lost in one incident. And in between that another two that’s just in one park. But yeah, Virunga is one of the hotspots around the world. Congo as a whole and India as well, India, we’re losing so many Rangers. Thailand we’ve lost a number. So yeah, people need to understand that happens. But on the positive side, you can get behind the families left behind. But you can also get behind preventing it from happening to.

Angela: Well, we certainly need to honour anyone doing this type of work. That is just horrific.Now, is it getting worse out there? Are there increased poachers? Are there more ambushes? What have you found?

Sean: It’s probably difficult to say with any scientific authority, anecdotally I can tell you my vie. My view is that it’s probably going to get harder for Rangers in some areas, because the population of the world is increasing. And we’ve seen that now with even COVID, where a lot of jobs have been lost in the tourism industry, especially around ecotourism. There’s a lot of people without work. And so when there’s a lot of people without work, they’ve got to feed their families and some taking it a step further than that, you know, and trying to make lots of money.

But the Rangers are dealing in many areas with increased poaching, because of the lack of income in many communities. But with a growing population and diminishing resources, and you have Rangers on that line between growing population and resources in their protected area. When we’ve had Rangers killed for grass, just ordinary, everyday grass that cows eat. I won’t say where because there’s some security implications, but in one area, the Rangers, protecting an area that had long grass for the wildlife to eat, a large park. And the people outside, the local people had used up all their grass during this drought. And they had AK-47’s and they came into the park and said our cows are coming in and the Rangers said, No, you can’t.

Now, part of the reason for that there was no rain is it can be put down to climate change, climate crisis, this part of the world, there’s seasonal rains every year on this day, like, you know, it rains on this day, and then rains for three months as a seasonal rain area. It didn’t come that year. So there’s no grass. So the community went in with their AK’s, and had a battle with Rangers, the Rangers from that community to some of them. Yeah, so, but shot a couple of Rangers, that’s the implication for Rangers.

So with diminishing resources and less certainty, less jobs, my interpretation will be it’s going to get more difficult for a lot of Rangers. The antidote to that is where we’re working with a lot of communities to actually employ Rangers. So a lot of other NGOs, we collaborate with other organisations. So we employ people from the local community, and they get a financial benefit from that member of the family being a Ranger. Like in one part of Kenya, one mass I employed with Big Life Foundation, supports 22 other members of the community. And when they had a drought, that sustained the community, in other parts, it’s a lower ratio, but still support 12 people in their community.

So where you involve the community in conservation, that’s got to be the antidote. But the reality is, we’re going to look at a world population and be how much resources we all use each and every day. Otherwise, we going to have these little islands of protected areas that are going to be so hard to protect in the long run if there’s that overwhelming tsunami of need.

Angela: So are conditions definitely improving? You guys are one of the main charities to arm and support the Rangers with what they need. So is it getting easier, safer, better for them?

Sean: Look, yes and no, I remain optimistic. But the reality is that there’s a lot of need out there. I mean, we’re a small organisation, we can maybe support 1% of the world’s Rangers. Even with all the good work we’re doing. I mean, we help train a couple of 1,000 Ranges last year and equip the same and supported, I think it was 80 families with that probably 500 kids. I mean, that’s all good work. And for those people that got that that’s really important. I mean, they wouldn’t say don’t do that. They’d say thank you. It’s amazing. And they do. But we got to scale it up. There’s much more to do.

Sean: So is there hope? Yeah, I mean, this highway, in areas where we have done that work, we’ve seen poaching diminish, we’ve seen community engagement in conservation increase, we’ve seen less Rangers getting injured or die. We’ve seen less Rangers get sick, we’ve seen a boost in morale for the Rangers. So when they get their training, that equipment, the support if something goes wrong, yeah, it elevates it all. Whether it’s through Thin Green Line, or our partners or anybody else, I’ll just say this, make sure if you donate to any organisation that’s doing conservation work, make sure it’s getting to where it needs to on the ground. So that’s the one thing that was so – Thin Green Line, we try and do that as best we can. And we do a good job of it. There’s others that have a good image of doing stuff, but may not so just shop around and see where you want to put your support. But definitely get behind something, whether it’s through us or others. There’s plenty of good organisations out there.

Angela: Thanks, Sean. It’s important to support something. So that goes into how can myself and the listeners support your work through word of mouth through donations,

Sean: Whatever people can give. One of the most heartfelt donations I received when I first started was a $5  note wrapped up in a bit of paper with a note that said, Look, I saw you on TV about the Rangers, and I don’t have much money. There’s two things I can give you. One is $5. That’s all I can afford. But I hadn’t thought of this issue or conservation really until I saw the story. So I’m going to raise my son to be thinking about these issues and how it’s worked. Well. That’s, that’s amazing. So yeah, if you can give something to one of our four areas of training, equipping, emergency support, that’s the Fallen Ranger Fund or Connecting Rangers in exchanges and stuff, or any of those four fantastic, or a general donation, that’s really appreciated. And if you can’t talk to other people about it, let them know what’s going on, check out The Thin Green Line Foundation, it would be great to receive that support.

But if you find another NGO that’s doing other work that you’re passionate about, get behind that, too, I mean, I support personally other stuff with refugees and Asylum Seeker Resource Centre here in Australia and a few other things because I’m passionate about those issues, too. So we’re not going to be the be all and end all. But I’d say if you want to support Rangers, and the people on the frontline of conservation or sacrificing life, The Thin Green Line Foundation is a really great place to start.

Angela: I’ll put all those links in the show notes so people know where to go. So Sean, do you have a nice memorable story of a way you and your team have changed a Ranger’s life, their family’s life, or an animal save you can talk about?

Sean: There’s lots of great stories from all the experiences, but whether it be animal encounters or being charged by elephants, and I’ve been on foot with rhinos, and yeah, I’ve actually, in India, I remember one of the most memorable experience wasn’t actually seeing the animal but I was looking for tigers on foot with a Ranger in India. We walked around the corner of this riverbed and just as we walked around the corner, he said, Look, and there’s a footprint of a tiger and it was filling with the surrounding water, ie the tiger just made that impression a second ago. So it was literally just there. He goes, he’s watching us now. And I just stood there watching this water filling. That’s incredible. I can’t see it. I don’t need to see it. Just to know it’s here is incredible. You know, and it’s this close, it must have been in 10 metres but we couldn’t see it, that was incredible.

And then I mean, there’s so many memorable things on the personal side, too, with the Rangers and their family. Being with Pradesh, my good Ranger friend in India, who’s rescued leopards out of wells, and I helped him rerelease a cobra into the wild. And probably the one I will share is a widow in Uganda, which I’ve spoken about before, but for good reason, because it’s such a beautiful sentiment she conveyed. So in Kidepo National Park, which is north of Uganda, there was about 16 Rangers killed over this period of time, and I went there and met all the widows and supported them on behalf of Thin Green Line and our supporters. And we don’t just hand the money out, there’s a process to identify that it’s the right widow and what are they going to do with the money and you know, what’s going to be best used for schooling, setting up a business and maybe retraining, whatever. We’re not missionaries, we don’t say you will do this with the money. We say, well, what’s the best use and have a conversation basically.

So anyway, this process and at the end of this process is one amazing lady said, Sean, do you know what’s it’s like to live in total darkness? Without hope? It was a big question, to what look, no I’ve had my dark times, like most people, but total darkness without any hope? I’d probably say no, I haven’t. She said, well, look, my husband was killed for doing his job as a Ranger, we were kicked out of the accommodation for Rangers and we had nowhere to live. My children were removed from school, because we had no income. And we had to work on farms for $1 a day, just eat. And she said and that was okay, the working but she said the knowledge for a mother to realise that your children will have no education, and therefore she said in this country, no future. They’ll be laborers their whole life now, and we were very big on education with our kids, that was our priority. I look at my children working in the fields, and they are eight years old working in the fields. They’re not going to be educated.

For a mother to not have hope for her children. That’s total darkness. And she said, I had nowhere to go. She said, this support you’ve given me is come out of nowhere and I didn’t expect it. And she explained it this way. She said it’s a beam of light shining into the darkness – just a beam of light. And she said, in that light, I plan to plant a seed of hope for my family. And I was like, wow, you know, how succinct and how smart you know? Beautiful what she just said. She realised we weren’t solving all the problems. We’re just giving our little beam of light into the darkness, and that she realised that she had work to do with that life that’s all she wanted. That’s all she needed. And I looked at her and went, oh, you’re going to do fine. Like you’re an amazing woman. You’re going to do fine with this.

But the way she summed that up, well, I went and that’s maybe what I carry with me a lot too. And with the working like, I feel like giving up, you know, here and there for sure because it’s sometimes feel insurmountable. But you got to realise we’re not each one of us responsible for shining a floodlight into the darkness. But if all of us can just put one beam of light here and there, that starts to add up, and maybe that’s the responsibilities to break it down into just put one beam of light into someone’s day. Maybe that’s enough.

Angela: Yeah. And as a mother, that really resonates with me as well.

Sean: I get emotional talking about it. Now.

Angela: Here in Australia, We are so fortunate. And you know, as a mother, you do the school pick up the drop off, and you don’t really think about it. This woman, these people, they’re after the basics, and they don’t need a lot. But we don’t need a lot. You know, we’re finally moving towards a place of consuming less and being conscious of it. But you can really learn from these communities, that they just want to put food on the table have a future for their children and believe in something. It’s so simple and humbling.

Sean: Yeah, I mean, it’s a good reference point. For me, I feel a little bit insecure at the moment, because I’ve got a young son and a wife. And, you know, we can’t afford like many people to buy housing in Melbourne at the moment. I sold my house to keep this work going. And I can’t get back in at all and, and there’s also no houses to rent in our area either. So you know, God forbid, if our landlord decided they had to sell because the price was too good. We actually have to move out of our community. So that’s a little bit of insecurity for me. But then I checked myself and go, Hey, we’re okay, we got clean water, we’ve got food, we’ll be okay. Oh, and the biggest one, we’ve got opportunities. Many people don’t have opportunity to better the situation and we’ve got plenty of that.

Angela: And choices, we have a lot more choice. So what’s happening this year with the Thin Green Line Foundation? What are your future plans?

Sean: Well, we’ve got a really tight team together, which is looking at all the things we can do together. We’re going to raise a few campaigns to get more support for the training, equipping all those four pillars I mentioned. The training, equipping emergency response and get people further engaged. We want to get more information and stories out there about the Rangers themselves and who they are. We opened up applications to Ranger groups to apply for funding. We had about 15 times the amount of applications that we can support. So we’re going to be able to support about 8% of what was applied for. So we’re going to get that 8% supported. And then we go to the donor community that care about Rangers and wildlife and conservation and protected areas and say, hey, we can fund these but now we’ve got these amazing projects that are looking for funding.

Some of it’s emergency funding for COVID, because Rangers don’t have salaries in some areas. So we’re trying to just keep them working because they just don’t have enough to buy an egg. And it’s not just COVID to some socio political areas. Like in Venezuela, I said the Ranger’s actually decreasing monthly wages enough to buy one egg. That’s it, because of the situation there. So we want to get that emergency support out. That’s number one. priority. Number two is continuing our training with Rangers where we train the trainer. And I think with 14 Rangers we trained up in lead Ranger, they’ve now gone out and trained over 1,000 Rangers. Because those 1,000 Rangers are being trained in emergency first aid now 50,000 Maasai community have access to emergency first aid, and that’s already saved 14 lives.

So we’re going to do more of that, expand that program out, we’re going to get a bunch of equipment out there, we’re still have some Patagonia gear to give out and some other essential stuff like mosquito nets and boots, and just they’re called Ranger Care boxes. So we send Ranger Care boxes to a group of 10 Rangers that has all those provisions that we all take for granted in our life. You know, clean water, not getting diseases, all that stuff. And then Increasing the Fallen Ranger Fund so we can support at least 100 families and with that probably 500 kids of Rangers who lost their lives this year.

So if we can do all that grow, the amount we can give out there. And that’s only going to happen if we can get people’s support. So we hope people do feel the Rangers cause and what they’re trying to do what we’re trying to do with them. So yeah, we want to do more, we want to shine some more beams of light into some more places of dark.

Angela: Sean, thank you so much for joining me today. I’m so honoured to share your work, the stories of the Rangers. I want to hear much more and if you are listening and you are looking for an organisation, a cause to follow and support the Thin Green Line foundation are incredible. They are working tirelessly, selflessly for people that are making true sacrifices in their life or away from their families. They’re in danger every single day to protect the animals and the land we love so much. Every night I read a book to my kids about an elephant or a rhino or my daughter roars at me like a tiger. And now I think there is someone standing on the front line to make sure that that tiger and its home remains on the planet. Incredible work. So if you are in a position to donate, please do so, Follow The Thin Green Line foundation. I put all the links to their websites and social media pages in the show notes and let’s show Sean and his team how grateful we are for their work and the global work of our wildlife Rangers.

Sean: Thanks for connecting with us Angela and putting your piece of the jigsaw in place for us and telling more people about it

Angela: Honestly Sean, it was an honour, and I’m so happy to share these stories. Thanks for being here. And thanks to the listeners.

Sean: Good onya and on behalf of the World’s Rangers, thank you and your listeners as well.

Angela: Thank you for joining me on PROTECT. I hope you found this episode valuable and enjoyed learning about the work of the Rangers and the Thin Green Line Foundation. As mentioned, if you are in a position to support them, please hit the links in the show notes where you can make a direct donation and do follow them on social media to stay in touch with the news and stories of our global Ranger’s and their protected areas. There’s so much talk on protecting the planet and animal conservation and I do a lot of it here on the podcast. But it’s wonderful to see an organisation taking care of the people that are living and working in these areas. And just seeking the basics in life. It’s truly humbling. Now this is the last episode for season two of PROTECT, it’s been a fun one. If you’ve enjoyed it as well please let me know over on Instagram or Twitter at Angela Fedele. Thank you for being here. Thank you for listening and I’ll be back in a few weeks. Stay well.

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