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  • Aktion Amazonas

Battlefield gone green

The job of a forest ranger is one that varies widely depending on location, but it is rarely considered life-threatening, unlike professions such as police officers or firefighters. However, deep within the Amazon Rainforest, where the stakes are high and the dangers are real, the role of a forest ranger takes on an utterly dangerous dimension.

Illegal mining activity at the edge of the Madre de Dios river in the Peruvian Amazon. // CREDIT: Maia Galmés Feuer
Illegal mining activity at the edge of the Madre de Dios river in the Peruvian Amazon. // CREDIT: Maia Galmés Feuer (AKAM)

The protected area upon which this article is based was granted to the conservationist NGO, Conservación Amazónica (ACCA), a partner of Aktion Amazonas, by the Peruvian government in 2001. It has several strategically positioned ranger stations to safeguard the integrity of its vast territory.

During a visit to one of these ranger stations, Aktion Amazonas had the opportunity to speak with Pedro, a ranger stationed in the above mentioned protected area of the Peruvian Amazon, whose insights form the basis of this article. To protect his identity in the face of potential reprisals, Pedro's real name, as well as the name and specific information of the area he works in, have been anonymized.

In an off-the-record conversation, Pedro shares the reality of his job with Aktion Amazonas: "It's forbidden to carry arms," he says, "but out in the field, it's a different story. There, your life is on the line. So, you have to carry a hidden weapon”.

However, when facing a camera, Pedro offers a more diplomatic explanation of the rangers’ approach: "When we detect illegal activity in our territory," he explains, "we seek peaceful means to persuade trespassers to leave. We inform them of the laws protecting this conservation area and encourage compliance." These two perspectives coexist; rangers prioritize prevention over violence, yet the shift in tone highlights the precarious position they're in and the measures they must take to carry out their duties without risking their lives. Moreover, it also underscores the absence of government forces, likely due to corruption, when armed protection becomes necessary.

Pedro elaborates further on the operational tactics employed by the rangers: "We use satellite or drone technology to pinpoint illegal activity. Once located, we move into that area, dressed in camouflage and masks to conceal our identities, and hide near the invaders for two or three hours to identify them and their weapons”.

The consequences of illegal invaders at the edge of the Madre de Dios River in Peru.
The consequences of illegal invaders at the edge of the Madre de Dios River in Peru. // CREDIT: Maia Galmés Feuer (AKAM)

The invaders are usually afraid of legal repercussions and prefer to escape, instead of confronting the rangers with violence, explains Pedro. However, “some of us, particularly those with military backgrounds, are armed for protection, and we sometimes fire warning shots to try to make them leave without having to confront them”, he adds.

In this sense, many Amazon rangers are sought to have military backgrounds, as their training and physical capabilities can be extremely useful in the case of facing violent encounters. However, NGOs managing these protected forest areas often struggle with limited resources, making it challenging to staff ranger teams with a sufficient number of former military personnel. Moreover, the remoteness of ranger stations makes it harder for trained and skilled professionals to take this job.

That is the case at the ranger stations of ACCA’s protected forest area: on average, only 3 out of 11 rangers per station have military experience and have, therefore, the necessary physical skills to defend the territory and their lives upon a violent encounter with illegal intruders.

Pedro affirms the work of the rangers has helped control the integrity of the territory, although they still face ongoing challenges. In his own words, he states that "for now, we have illegal logging under control, but illegal mining remains a concern".

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