Thirteen Indigenous rangers have journeyed nearly 10,000km from Australia to the foot of the Himalayas to share their knowledge and create partnerships with rangers from around the world.
Rangers from Queensland and Western Australia made the epic trip to Sauraha in Nepal for the World Ranger Congress, joining some 550 rangers from over 70 countries who work on the frontline to protect wildlife and natural resources.
It was the first time travelling overseas for many of the Indigenous rangers, who made the journey last month with support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia.
“It was pretty overwhelming to be looking at those mountains. You don’t see scenery like that back at home, so it was great to see the different sites and meet rangers from around the world,” said Zachariah Edgar from the Bardia Jawi Rangers in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia.
Held at a time when wildlife and rangers are under increasing threat, the 9th World Ranger Congress was the largest congress ever and the first held in Asia.
Organised by the International Ranger Federation, the Congress provided a platform for rangers to share ideas and collaborate on issues affecting rangers globally. Themes addressed this year included ranger welfare, the importance of women and Indigenous rangers, and new technology solutions for rangers.
In addition to supporting the Indigenous ranger delegation, the Australian Government was a Platinum sponsor of the Congress. Australian governments are increasingly utilising the knowledge and expertise of Indigenous rangers in land and sea management.
“It was great to share what we do on our country and learn what people are doing in other countries. We’ve all got different ways of caring for country,” said Edward Smallwood from Gudjuda Reference Group, a ranger group that protects dugongs, dolphins and sea turtles in northeast Queensland.
Nearly 40% of the rangers attending the Congress were women, part of an effort to recognise the contribution of women rangers and advocate for more women in the overwhelmingly male dominated ranger workforce.
“In Indigenous culture there's women's business and men's business, so women rangers are important for cultural purposes. You have to have women and men working together on country,” said Shayleen Cole, a ranger from Gudjuda Reference Group who attended the Congress.
WWF-Australia is working collaboratively with Aboriginal Land Councils, Indigenous Corporations and ranger groups to support their women ranger programs.
“The Congress was an opportunity for rangers to showcase their achievements in conservation on a global stage, as well as learn from other rangers around the world. It’s empowering to know the Congress is looking at strategies to get more women involved as rangers on a global scale. Women play a critical role in managing natural resources and we need to keep working together to continue to push for policy changes and more roles for women,” said Irene Davey, Kimberley Land Council Cultural Advisor.
Outside of the Congress sessions, the rangers had the chance to sample Nepalese food, visit local temples and view wildlife like elephants and rhinos.
WWF-Australia’s Head of Healthy Land and Seascapes, Darren Grover said the Congress was a chance to showcase the amazing work of Indigenous rangers on a global stage.
“The Australian experience has shown that Indigenous ranger programs can empower communities to protect natural and cultural resources, provide economic development and support the emergence of positive role models and community leaders,” said Mr Grover.
“It’s also important for our rangers to know they are not alone. The Congress showed there are other rangers across the world who are facing many of the same issues, like the uncertainty of funding.
“Australia has seen substantial progress over the past decade with Indigenous ranger groups managing their country. WWF-Australia and rangers from across northern Australia are calling for these programs to be strengthened and for Indigenous ranger numbers to more than double, with a focus on ensuring gender equity.”
Indigenous rangers across Australia are funded largely by federal and state governments, and work in partnership with NGOs, Land Councils and Indigenous Corporations to deliver meaningful employment, training and career pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in land and sea management.