They are conducting a war, albeit not named as such. The front lines are on the move, going deep into remote and hostile areas, fighting an enemy with no flag, no uniform, and no regard for the borders of sovereign states. The rangers, often poorly equipped and invariably poorly paid, risk their lives for one sole purpose and that is to put an end to the scourge of poaching. The illegal trade in elephant tusks, rhinoceros horns, pangolin scales and other exotica has thrived with great demand from Asian markets and boosted by the large numbers of nouveaux riches now in China and Vietnam. As a result, a number of protected species are now endangered or even verging on extinction.
Since 2007, the South African photojournalist Brent Stirton has been covering the battle waged against poaching and wildlife trafficking, and it was in that first year, in 2007 that he took the famous picture of the dead gorilla in a Christ-like position, arms outstretched, being carried aloft by a dozen rangers, and the photo won a World Press Photo first prize. Twelve years and some twenty awards later, in 2019, the picture of the ranger Petronella Chigumbura, a member of the all-female unit Akashinga, is in the running for the World Press Photo of the Year.
Over all those years, Brent Stirton was covering the wildlife rangers in their day-to-day work, in Zimbabwe, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, the Central African Republic, Uganda, Kenya, in fact everywhere in Africa where both male and female rangers resolutely tackle the many and varied forms their enemy takes. This covers the full spectrum from local hunters in the pay of Asian cartels all the way through to organized terrorist groups such as Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army or the Janjaweed from Sudan and various tribal militias. It is a long war of attrition to save wildlife, and the rangers are there on the front line.
This exhibition is dedicated to those rangers.
Feature Reporter, Le Figaro Magazine
Brent Stirton wishes to thank National Geographic, Le Figaro Magazine and GEO for supporting his work and publishing his photos over all these years.