A couple of weeks ago, a baby bullfinch flew into our window and I found it lying on the ground. We nursed it overnight and, although she was quite chirpy next day and able to fly, she couldn’t stand. Apparently, severely concussed birds can often suffer immobility in their legs for some time afterwards so I was hoping for some improvement. However, 24 hours later she still couldn’t stand. I eventually found a young lady called Summer in Clayton West who has a small wildlife refuge and she offered to take a look. Summer presently cares for a host of birds and mammals including a fox, guineafowl, ducks and chickens in a small enclosure which she rents from the landowner. When she examined the little bird, she found it had a broken leg and took it straight to the vet for treatment. I was hoping for a small miracle and good news that the bird was on the road to recovery but it was not to be. The break was on a joint and could not be repaired so unfortunately she had to be put to sleep. At least, I was left with the sense that we had all done what we could to save it. And I was so impressed by this young woman working alone and giving freely of her time, money and energy for the sake of vulnerable animals.
There are lots of people like Summer who give up their time to care for wildlife, some paid and some unpaid. I’ve been reading about the 1.5 million rangers across the world who are employed to monitor and protect wildlife, mostly from human interactions. Working in the great outdoors with wildlife sounds like a very attractive proposition until you learn more about their conditions of employment. Many receive minimal training and equipment, risk attacks by animals, reptiles and poachers, or suffer tropical diseases, all of which might result in severe injury or death. The average salary is £214 per month. In the last decade, more than 800 rangers have lost their lives, many to poachers. In 2020 alone, 13 rangers were killed by elephants.
It’s amazing that anyone would want such a job but those who accept the challenge are a much needed lifeline to some of our most endangered creatures. Without such men and women, there is a greater likelihood that some of our iconic animals would become extinct. If losing such animals was not enough in itself, losing some of these species would also be detrimental to our fight against climate change. The critically endangered forest elephants, for example, are losing their habitat to palm oil plantations. Allowed to exist undisturbed, they encourage trees to grow taller and, therefore, store more carbon, by fertilising them and weeding out the smaller trees and vegetation. Protecting nature has knock-on effects for human kind. The natural world is not separate from ours, it’s part of it.
It’s easy to think that as we have no tigers, buffalo, rhino, or elephants in the UK, conservation really is someone else’s problem but did you know that the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world? Even the common kingfisher which people love to see streaking down the river or canal, is declining in numbers due to agricultural run-off, pollution and contamination of rivers.
Also, an RSPB study has suggested a link between declining kestrel numbers, whose staple diet is field voles, and the use of rat poison. These examples are but a few of the pitfalls facing our rapidly reducing wildlife.
While overseas rangers suffer these substantial risks on our behalf, and young people like Summer work here for no financial reward, the rest of us who love wildlife should be more determined to play a small part to support and protect what we can here in the UK.