Working as a park ranger in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is no easy task. The salary is low, the work is dangerous and physically demanding, and their efforts can sometimes see rangers being rejected by their own communities. Perpetrators arrested by rangers are also often set free after a short time, leaving rangers in fear of retaliatory acts.

Much effort is being put into evaluating the conservation status of national parks, their fauna and flora, and more recently into studying the people who live around parks, particularly their well-being. However, little research has investigated the well-being of the rangers and staff who work in the field of conservation, their levels of motivation and what this might mean for the conservation work they do. Rangers who are not motivated to do their job won’t be effective at protecting wildlife in the parks in which they work, so increasing job satisfaction amongst rangers has the potential to improve conservation outcomes.

Kahuzi-Biega National Park, located in eastern DRC, was chosen for a case study to assess these aspects of the rangers’ lives. Motivation and satisfaction are two distinct psychological processes, yet they affect each other. Motivation refers to the reasons why a person performs a particular job, and satisfaction refers to the fulfilment that a person receives from performing his/her job. These have rarely been studied in the field of conservation law enforcement, highlighting the importance of this type of research. The study, published in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation, found that park rangers often started out optimistic and motivated, but as time passed their motivation and job satisfaction decreased. Our research also showed that in the case of Kahuzi-Biega National Park, the more years a ranger works at the park and the older he gets (the rangers were all men), the less satisfied with his job he is likely to become. At the time of the study the average age of the rangers was 44. Rangers had worked there for 16 years on average and some for as long as 38 years.

The situation in the eastern DRC continues to be extremely challenging. There is a huge quantity of weapons in circulation, left from the civil war that broke out in 1996, as well as ongoing conflict involving a multitude of armed groups (many of which are active within national parks). The rangers’ day-to-day patrols in national parks often lead to life-threatening situations, including encounters with armed militias or guarded miners who are exploiting natural resources illegally, or armed individuals who simply happened to be on the rangers’ patrol route.

Based on our findings, we have developed clear recommendations for protected area managers in this park and elsewhere, to ensure their ranger force remains motivated and thus more effective. To keep park rangers motivated and satisfied, managers need to provide them with a salary that reflects the cost of living and the risks of the job, provide better promotion opportunities to rangers, and provide internal and external recognition for their work as well as positive performance incentives and improved living conditions for remote patrol posts. Without measures to improve their security, rangers are unmotivated to conduct patrols and are less able to do their job effectively. In addition, the judicial system needs to better support rangers. Wildlife offenders who are arrested and transferred to local courts are often freed after a short period of time, and sometimes retaliate against the rangers involved in their arrest. This causes rangers to avoid confrontation with offenders and be reluctant to patrol in areas with high levels of illegal activity, which defeats their purpose as a force of dissuasion.

Although a limited park budget can make it difficult to implement these recommendations, park managers could start with the most feasible measures and gradually improve the motivation and satisfaction of rangers working under their command. Shortly after the study was carried out, the manager of Kahuzi-Biega National Park acted upon the information presented and hired 110 new recruits, all 20–35 years old, which reduced the mean age of rangers to 34. This was a positive first step towards improving the job satisfaction of rangers working in one of the Albertine Rift’s most important protected areas for the conservation of endemic and globally threatened species.

If you would like to read more about this study, the paper ‘Understanding ranger motivation and job satisfaction to improve wildlife protection in Kahuzi–Biega National Park, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo’ is now freely available until February 13 in Oryx—The International Journal of Conservation.

Photo credits:

1- Ranger on the top of Mount Kahuzi (© Andrew Kirkby/WCS)

2- Rangers at the Park headquarters on International Ranger Day (© Charlotte Spira/WCS)

3- Rangers on patrol (© PRJ Photography)

4- Ranger scanning the horizon (© PRJ Photography)

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