There have been a fair few personnel changes over the last few months. New faces in the Mess and in the Field, candidates competing for a handful of full-time positions in the Tiger Protection & Conservation Units…
They are the ones who got this far. For every ‘trainee’ accepted, there are others who did not get past that first informal ‘chat’ over a cup of coffee and even more who don’t even get to that stage.
On the other hand there are a few old-hand members of the team who remember getting invitations to pop into the Mess for ‘coffee and a chat’ and next thing they know they’ve been head-hunted.
I know that our approach to recruiting Tiger Protection & Conservation Unit rangers sometimes seems a little confusing to our national park partners and even other For a start, we try to avoid letting it be publicly known that we are looking for new rangers. We don’t demand school leaving certificates or a minimum education standard (though we do hope that they can read and write) either while we would rather have National Park rangers newly posted to the reserve than old hands, however accomplished.
Nor do we have specific age range guidelines (hint – you probably stand a better chance if you are in your mid-twenties).
On the other hand, yes, would-be team members will be from this area of Sumatra (if for no other reason than you wont be able to understand mess (and field) banter if you don’t know at least two local dialects, Bai ).
But even the rule that prospective ranger members of the team will be from forest-edge communities is as flexible as the rest of the recruitment criteria (as Iswadi can attest) ..
There are however some rules, spoken or unspoken, that do guide the process, Ex-poachers aren’t invited and need not apply (how ex is ex? And even if ‘you’ are an ex-poacher, how about your brother-in-law? Your old school friend? Your uncle?) though some are valued friends and sources of information and advice.
But we do love people who have worked as non-timber forest products collectors, gaharu (Aquillaria) or jernang in particular, because they understand how things work and are used to spending long periods in the forest. And yes, some of the team might perhaps have once known one end of a chainsaw from the other.
On the other hand, a record of environmental activism in a local NGO is actually often a negative, rather than a plus, we aren’t here to ‘debate’ or assign blame ..polemic is for plonkers…
Experience in the forest is good but most anybody can learn to use a GPS, a compass and read a topographic map. Given time and a patient ranger mentor they can also learn to ‘’read’’ the forest from secondary signs (footprints of what, when? How many people, when, where…).
They can learn to build a pondok (forest shelter) for four men in 10 minutes flat and get a fire lit with damp wood even after two days of straight rain and be trained to respond to and mitigate human-wildlife conflicts.
Following their patrol leader and more experienced rangers, they can learn how to move through the forest swiftly and safely and, under their TPCU Leader’s command (he is the one who will be responsible), to respond to wildlife and forest crime. .
But in the end, there is one key quality that underpins the whole thing, that can’t be learned and, if it is missing, they don’t make the grade.
It can be as simple as never moving faster than the slowest member of the unit or moving into position, without being asked, to help in a river crossing where a fellow ranger can’t swim.
Its called working in a team. And if you cant do that, you don’t get to join Team Tiger.
Kerinci April 2012