Interview with Rohit Singh, WWF Wildlife Law Enforcement Specialist
Rohit Singh works tirelessly to support rangers and protect wildlife from poachers as a law enforcement specialist for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). His mission is to strengthen enforcement levels in protected areas and to coordinate efforts among government officials, field staff, and the WWF. He is also the President of Ranger Federation Asia where he helps to oversee ranger training throughout Asia.
He has recently been featured in the documentary Rangers on the Frontline created by the wildlife streaming channel Love Nature in collaboration with the WWF. The film follows Rohit as he helps to train a team of rangers in the Mondulkiri province of Cambodia. Rohit agreed to be interviewed about his work and the future of wildlife and conservation in Asia.
What does your job as wildlife law enforcement specialist with the WWF entail?
Wildlife rangers are risking their lives every day in order to protect and preserve our natural environment, so no one day is ever exactly the same. We run frequent patrols and exercises, but in a lot of cases we have to react fast if we receive information about wildlife at risk.
Daily duties include patrolling for poachers, checking for snares, setting camera traps to collect data, rescuing wild animals, working with local communities to gather intelligence, and educating the public about the need to protect endangered species.
How did you come to be in this role?
I’ve always loved animals and knew from a young age that I wanted to work with them. I was lucky enough to start my career as a zoo keeper at a bear rescue centre in India, and for the past nine years I have been working with WWF as part of their on-ground protection team. There’s nothing better than knowing that your job is helping to save endangered wildlife.
What is involved in training the rangers who work on the frontline protecting endangered species and how do you train them to deal with potentially life threatening situations?
Rangers have to be physically and mentally tough to work under extremely difficult and life threatening conditions in remote areas. Well trained rangers are the key to survival of endangered wildlife as they are the ones standing between endangered wildlife and armed poachers and loggers.
A lot of the knowledge and techniques rangers use are best learned through practice, so on the job training is really important. We’ve been lucky to have the support of generous donors and organisations to help fund training for rangers in places like Cambodia. For example, our partnership with Love Nature has allowed us to bring in experienced wildlife professionals from across the globe to train local rangers in Cambodia’s Srepok and Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuaries.
As a wildlife law enforcement specialist and the President of the Ranger Federation of Asia, my role is to help the ranger community in every possible way, as they protect and preserve our natural environment.
Rangers risk their lives every day, so we provide ongoing training to ensure they are both mentally and physically fit. Their job involves frequent patrols and exercises, but also requires them to react fast if we receive information or a tip-off about potential wildlife at risk.
Daily duties include patrolling for poachers, checking for snares, setting camera traps to collect data, rescuing wild animals, working with local communities to gather intelligence, and raising awareness among the public about the need to protect endangered species.
In Cambodia, how do you feel the perception of the importance of wildlife has changed in the local community?
Among the indigenous communities, you will find that respect for nature is an intrinsic part of their cultures. Sustainable resource use is not just a concept – it is what they practise every day for their survival.
The challenge is that many agricultural or migrant communities may not care as much about the connection between wildlife, the need to protect the ecosystems they live in, and the natural resources that these ecosystems produce for them. There are many reasons – lack of awareness as well as changing needs and lifestyles due to modernising economies.
It is the role of park authorities and conservation groups to disseminate the knowledge about wildlife and its importance. WWF has been actively doing that for the past 5 years in Cambodia and I must say it is showing results. The community perception survey we did on tiger reintroduction last year is a good indicator of this. We asked the local communities, villagers, people in town and cities if they would like to see tigers back in Cambodia. An overwhelming <80% of people said yes.
Why do you think some of the locals are driven to poaching?
Limited livelihood opportunities and poverty are real challenges in areas that are often rural and remote, and often this is the main push that gets local people involved in poaching. Although the key driver is demand from buyers for desired illegal wildlife products – it also requires non-local traders who travel to rural villages in order to convince local people who are in need, to poach for money. Sadly, the local people who are compelled by their need for money often make very little out of the risky and criminal activities they commit. It is the large criminal networks with kingpins and traders who profit from illegal wildlife trade.
There are plans to try and double tiger numbers in the wild by 2022. Based on what you have seen and experienced, do you think this is realistic?
The Tx2 (‘T times two’) goal of doubling wild tigers in the world is not just based on a possibility, it is a necessity. If we don’t act now to do all that we can in protecting the tiger as a species, they may never have the chance to recover again.
This is recognised by the government leaders of the tiger-range countries, who came together for the first time at the 2010 St Petersburg Tiger Summit, and created the Tx2 goal to double global tiger population by 2022.
Since then nations and organisations have been working hard to deliver this goal. It is perhaps the most ambitious conservation goal ever set. The hard work is showing results and for first time in the last 100 years, the latest tiger survey indicates an increase.
But the pressure is still on and we are rapidly losing tiger numbers in many sites in South East Asia. We need to double up our efforts to achieve the target. Now is the time to gear up and address the gaps in countries where tigers are still under the threat of extinction.
What has been one of the proudest moments of your career?
I have a soft spot for bears. During my time in India as a bear keeper I hand raised several bear cubs and rescued several from captivity and conflict situation.
I was leaving for the office when I got a call from a community member living near a protected forest in northeast Cambodia. The caller was a wildlife informant who helps us to gather valuable intelligence on wildlife poaching. He told me that villagers had reported seeing a baby cat, possibly a leopard cat, on the farm.
After driving for around an hour along dusty roads, we arrived at the ranger station. From there it was another half hour walk. On the way, many villagers
joined us. There were children, old men, women and young men, all looking forward to seeing the cat.
I asked the villagers to stay well back because I didn’t want to upset the animal. I went into the bush and saw one of the cutest animals I have ever rescued. It was a baby leopard cat.
I lifted her in my arms and started walking back towards the village. Everyone who saw her said only one thing: “Saat chin kei” (most beautiful and cutest) and so, at that moment, we decided to give her the name Saat (pronounced sah-art).
For two days I took care of her and she was with me all the time. We knew that she was too small to be released back into the wild but we didn’t have anywhere safe to keep her. We decided to move her to the rescue centre near to Phnom Penh, the capital
of Cambodia. Having spent three days with her, I found it a very emotional moment, but I knew this was the very best we could do for Saat. After we rescued Saat, we rescued several other leopard cat babies, as well as other animals and birds, but the memories I have from Saat’s rescue will always remain with me.
What do you think is the best way people can help rangers on the frontline and endangered wildlife in general?
Wherever you are, you can contribute to rangers by learning more about wildlife and creating awareness about the difficulties that rangers face as wildlife protectors. For example, WWF’s partner, Love Nature, has created short documentaries about the work and lives of Cambodian rangers in protected areas to help raise awareness on the support they need to do their work well.
By helping to support global conservation organisations such as WWF, you and your families can help as well.
Rangers on the Frontline is a new ground-breaking film on wildlife streaming channel LOVE NATURE. It follows a team of rangers in the Mondulkiri province of Cambodia, Asia’s last great wilderness, as they use their specialist anti-poacher training which, provided by WWF was funded by Love Nature.
This thrilling documentary shines a light on the work and lives of wildlife rangers around the world as they defend species and habitats from poachers, illegal loggers and organised criminals, often finding themselves in life-threatening situations.
Go to Lovenature.com to download Rangers on the Frontline from Love Nature, the video on-demand nature app which brings viewers closer to nature.
A special thank you to Rohit and the Love Nature team for arranging the interview and supplying photographs.