My life as a Ugandan Ranger

Photo of Robert Ntegeka
By Robert Ntegeka, Rangerin Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

I am a dedicated ranger, aged 31, born in the rural village of Nyantonzi, Budongo sub-county, Masindi district. I have happily worked with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in Queen Elizabeth National Park for the past five years.

Before joining the ranger force in 2008, my dream was absolutely different. As a child, my dream was to be a vicar or a journalist. But as time went on my ambition changed to being a conservationist. I particularly admired my father who was an agriculturalist but also practised tree planting. It is from here that my dream of becoming a conservationist started growing in towering heights. My love for nature and environment conservation grew further when I started interacting with students from the nearby Nyabyeya Forestry College prompting me to enrol for diploma in Wildlife and Allied Natural Resource Management at the Uganda Wildlife Training Institute-Lake Katwe in 2004. Joining the Wildlife College was partly fuelled by my elder sister Jane and her husband.

On joining UWA in 2008, I have happily served in different departments within UWA, mainly law enforcement and security, Community Conservation and Tourism being my present department. Because of my versatility, I also work in the accounts department. To date I have diligently executed my duties with high morale, challenges notwithstanding. Because of my considerable degree of teamwork and free interaction with fellow staff, communities and tourists; I have been able to excel in my assignments.

Challenges of being a ranger

Being a ranger is not only an enjoyable job but challenging. For instance my park being a biosphere reserve where community influx is high, a lot of challenges have been met from time to time. Key among the challenges I have met with some communities is failure to change their attitude towards encroachment on park resources, managing wildlife conflicts especially caused by problem animals, threats from animals especially on walking safaris, the language barrier especially when handling non-English speakers. I have however always done my best to ensure that the situation is a win-win and not win-lose or lose-lose. This has not been easy to achieve though, but rather through personal commitments and working closely with everyone.

Successes

I have ever since scored success not only in guiding but also with the community. My success has been largely attributed to my leadership skills which I attained from my primary school until college. For example the time I worked at Maramagambo Forest from 2009 to March 2010, I was able to zero myself to the community in order to understand their problem better. It is common that the locals sneak to the park for various resources like craft materials and firewood. When not properly monitored, lots of destruction can be made. Sweet talking such communities has been one of my outstanding roles hence saving these resources. I have also taken heed in making locals understand the value of conservation not only near the parks but beyond. Working closely with the community enabled me to understand their problem further and be able to make informed reports and decision. Being friendly to them also enables me to get intelligent information mainly on illegal activities. Through my work I have ably inculcated different ideas in people of all walks of life especially tourists, communities and students. Through such interactions many people have understood nature conserving matters better.

Why my work is important

I broadly believe my work is important because a lot of ideas have been imparted in different people and has made many of them understand conservation matters better. Featuring in the African Geographic magazine (October 2013) implies that people outside UWA have also recognised my efforts especially in the birding world. Sherry Mckelvie of Terrain Plant Kampala took her time with me and recorded my views about birding and other conservation issues. She has since made me a famous ranger not only in Uganda but around the globe. I have been keen on following birds and bird habitats and subsequently contributing articles to Uganda’s government news paper, The New Vision, about pertinent issues. Many people have been able to read my articles and have applauded me for the great job.

Through my work, I think, marketing of some UWA products has been realised. Through the interactions I have made with different people physically, exchanging emails, photography among others has made me sell a lot of UWA products.

My work has tremendously exposed me to the communities and the entire globe. I have been able to make hives of associates some of whom I have closely worked with. This has therefore made me get wealth of additional information through interactions, workshops and meetings. This has made my love for conservation grow vividly.

Different trainings I have undergone have enabled me develop tremendously. This in fact has been a vital investment in me. This has further developed my fundamental competencies that has enabled me perform my job to the highest standard.

Having worked for half a decade now, I am self-directed person who is able to work under minimum supervision. Through different short courses I have undergone in different disciplines, I am able to do any tasks that have been assigned to me. Having good conflict resolution skills has made me hit certain strides especially in handling difficult customers and complicated communities. These summed up have made me realise some of my dreams and also be able to fulfil my goals.

Interesting things

Arrays of interesting things have happened in my life as a ranger. While on training at The National Leadership Institute-Kyankwanzi in central Uganda, the day we went on range shooting remains immortal in my life. I remember been given five rounds of bullet of which none of them went in the bulls eye. When asked by the instructor why the whole platoon sergeant could not lead by example, my excuse was if I close an eye while aiming; both of them close at the same time something that rendered everyone to laugh. Being an icon in many things my colleagues did not believe their eyes that I could not hit the target. When I was added three bullets in round two, my right eye was closed using a masking tape but still no result was realised. What set me laughing was the instructor ordered me to move like a snake (on my belly).

Another interesting occurrence was when seven lions were stalking hippopotamuses at the banks of the Kazinga channel. While on an evening cruise sometime back in 2011, lions came close to the water prompting the hippos to move out. As the hippos moved out, the lions ran away. In fact it was a game of hide and seek. All my clients were extremely happy and gave us a golden handshake after docking. This remains yet one of my memorable and exciting moments in QENP. I shared the photos I took that day with The New Vision and some friends of the Twinning Project.

The day we took rest under an acacia tree in the lower Mweya peninsula while on the banded mongoose experiential tourism training can never be forgotten. I and Kenneth, a research assistant with the banded mongoose project, while resting under the tree soon show flesh falling from up. After both of us observing up the tree only to see a leopard feeding on a waterbuck. We ran, forgetting that our car was left behind.

Great people in my life

A good number of people others my supervisors, colleagues and friends have shaped me and helped in building my career. This has made me develop professionally. Top among them is the Conservation Area Manager Murchison Falls National Park, Tom Okello Obong, my incumbent Area Manager, Nelson Guma, and Pontious Ezuma, Area Manager Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The trio started shaping me while I was still undergoing my industrial training in Mweya to date.

Twinning Project staff and friends like Steve Peach and the family, Tracey and Richard, Stu and the family, Adam Stanley, Kim, Helen, Liz, and Jan, the list is endless are my great friends who have given I and my family great support. Most of the birding equipment and other gadgets I use today are all from them.

Sherry Mckelvie of Terrain Plant, Kampala who improved on my birding skills by donating me pair of binoculars and making me feature in the African geographic magazine is a great person in my life.

Peter and Johan Welsh of the UK advising me and donating me reading materials. The plant and butterfly guide books I use today were donated by the duo. Botany is one of my areas of fascination. Whenever I reason things botanically, Peter and Johan get closer to me.

Credit goes to my wife Joselyne Asiimwe who has always reminded me of pending assignments and endeavouring always to make me leave bed and put on uniform and get ready for work. My daughter Amelia is my good friend. Whenever I am back home she does all the best to entertain me and I forget about the day’s fatigue. She calls me Papa, something that makes me feel great.

My parents, Enoch Turumanya and Naume Gasi. They are gold to me. Despite the fact that they had a humble background, they were able to raise me up, pay my school dues among others.