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The most valued anti-poaching equipment? It may surprise you

© Charlie Shoemaker

In recent years, the battle against wildlife poaching in Africa has taken a high-tech turn. Night-vision goggles, body armor and unmanned aerial vehicles have all become part of the modern ranger armament. But for rangers on the ground, their actual requests are often more quotidian — starting with a good pair of socks.

“It is not always the fancy kit that rangers need,” said Keith Roberts, executive director for wildlife trafficking at Conservation International (CI). “It is rather the basics that can make all the difference.”

In response to this need, CI partnered with Osom Brand, a clothing company specializing in sustainable goods, to donate 1,000 pairs of high-quality socks specifically designed for rangers protecting wildlife on the front lines in Africa. Like all Osom Brand products, the socks are made almost entirely from recycled clothing, a process that reduces waste and eliminates the need for water and toxic dyes.

Working with the group For Rangers, a nonprofit focused on supporting the welfare of rangers and their families, the custom-designed socks have been sent to conservancies across central and northern Kenya. Recipients include armed anti-poaching teams working in some of the most challenging locations in Africa, including rangers with CI’s Sarara Initiative as well as the unit in charge of protecting Sudan, the last remaining male northern white rhino.

Seemingly a small matter, socks are indicative of a broader trend in equipping anti-poaching efforts across the continent. Though technical equipment can be important for matching the expanding capabilities of poachers, wildlife law enforcement ultimately comes down to boots on the ground, Roberts says. In the rush to provide the latest technology and tactics, the success and failure of anti-poaching efforts still hinges on the skill and dedication of rangers willing to put their lives on the line.

The welfare and safety of rangers is a global concern: Worldwide, an estimated 1,000 rangers were killed in the line of duty in the last decade, according to The Thin Green Line Foundation. Yet support for the families of these fallen rangers is often neglected, leaving outside groups to shoulder this solemn task.

In recognition of their extraordinary sacrifices, CI launched its recent Thank a Ranger action, encouraging supporters everywhere to express their gratitude online. Over 6,000 individuals responded with personal thank-you messages — a small gesture of support for the dangerous work rangers do all around the world.

“Rangers work in extreme conditions,” Roberts said. “They’re on the front lines dealing with anything from guys with machetes to armed militias. Efforts like these provide valuable encouragement. Rangers know that they are recognized by folks all over the world.”

Jamey Anderson is a senior writer for Conservation International.

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