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Ranger Diaries - Billy Banda

Billy Banda is a Human-Wildlife Coexistence Ranger at Game Rangers International (GRI). He was raised in Ngoma, a small-town bordering Zambia’s largest Protected Area, Kafue National Park. His father was a Wildlife Police Officer for Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife and instilled within his children the importance of protecting wildlife.

After completing school, Billy joined GRI as a camp assistant, gaining a deep understanding of the organisation’s holistic approach to conservation. He then secured a Diploma in Social Work from Evelyn Hone College and later completed an internship with the Department of Social Welfare, before returning to GRI in his current role, to educate, empower and engage local communities to conserve nature.

Wildlife Ranger with human wildlife conflict mitigation activity

Billy at GRI's Musa Camp at Itezhi-Tezhi

Billy is responsible for monitoring and mitigating Human-Wildlife Conflict in communities contiguous to Kafue National Park. He prevents, responds to, and helps communities recover from negative interactions between humans and wild animals which have resulted in injury, loss of property, livelihoods, or life.

What remains of a maize field after an elephant crop raid

What remains of a maize field after an elephant crop raid

Like many dedicated Rangers in Zambia, Billy works a 21:7-day rotation, spending three weeks of every month living alongside his colleagues in tented accommodation, at GRI’s Musa Camp on the shores of Lake Itezhi-Tezhi. As soon as day breaks, Billy sets off into the community on his motorcycle, to distribute affordable and effective wildlife deterrents. Maize farmers are provided with chilli blocks which can be burnt around the perimeter of their fields, generating potent smoke which repels elephants. Cattle farmers are provided with noise makers and flashing lights to discourage carnivores. The deterrents offered target one or several senses, causing temporary confusion or irritation to wildlife, but pose no risk of death, physical injury, or lasting distress.

Billy second from the right, demonstrating how motion sensor lights operate as farmers look on

Too often, when he is out in the field, Billy receives calls from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Operating Control Room, detailing a report of human-wildlife conflict. To date, over 2,000 bumper stickers highlighting critical safety messaging have been distributed in the local communities, to provide clear instructions on how to avoid and report negative interactions with wildlife. Upon receiving a report, Billy immediately informs the local community radio station and relevant Village Headmen, who in turn send out an alert warning of the presence of wildlife in the area. He then hurries to the scene of the conflict to provide rapid response, reassurance, and data collection capabilities.

From January to April, human-elephant conflicts are most prolific, with crop-raiding herds ravaging maize fields. During the fishing season, between March and December, the teams are on high alert for water-based conflicts, particularly on Lake Itezhi-Tezhi, where territorial bull hippos frequently overturn small boats and dug-out canoes. In recent years, Billy has observed a huge influx in the number of carnivore conflicts; particularly lions preying on cattle. As most of the local communities are subsistence pastoralists, the loss of cattle can have a significant impact on livelihoods. In 2021, 4 lions were killed by the community in retaliation. With only an estimated 250 lions in the whole of Kafue National Park – an area the size of Wales– this represents a devastating loss to the species.

A hippopotamus which has died at the hands of community members during a conflict.  Hippos and villages gathering water often come into contact.
A group of community members gathered at the shores of Lake Itezhi-Tezhi, observing a hippo which died as a result of human-wildlife conflict.

Billy takes time to speak directly to the affected farmers, offer compassion, acknowledge their loss and record the circumstances of the incident. This data helps GRI to understand wildlife movements and behavioural patterns and to identify which, if any, mitigation methods have been effective. Whilst at the conflict site, Billy manages any follow-up actions required, such as ensuring any injuries are adequately treated. In the case of a human fatality, Billy also supports with the recovery and transfer of remains, the provision of welfare support and funeral logistics.

In the afternoons, Billy raises awareness via radio broadcasts of conducts community meetings or travels from farm to farm, helping farmers to stamp the rumps of high-value cattle with painted eyes – a low-cost technique used to trick carnivores into thinking they have been seen so that they give up the hunt.

During his visits to known Human-Wildlife Conflict hotspots, he works with the community to fortify fields, granary stores, water sources and livestock. Most recently, Billy has been working with Village Headmen to empower farmers with zero-visibility kraals. Using low-cost, but durable fabric such as shade cloth or game fencing material to encircle cattle herds at night significantly reduces the risk of predation. Monitoring the kraals durability is key to assessing their long-term effectiveness.

Back at camp, Billy heads to the office to upload the day’s data, prepares an agenda for the next local stakeholder meeting, and sends out a photo update to the rest of the GRI Team. He reviews updates submitted from all corners of GRI – detailing the latest news from the Wildlife Rescue and Resource Protection Programmes, as well as the education and livelihood initiatives led by his colleagues in the Community Outreach Programme. This quick catch up with the wider team helps to remind Billy of the vital part he plays in the bigger picture of conservation.

He says of his role as a Human-Wildlife Coexistence Ranger, “I love what I do because it enables me to acquire new skills from conservation experts and use my technical skills in a team-based environment which demands of my excellence, innovation and creativity”.

He added that working with teams helps him build mutual understanding, gain more knowledge, and challenges him to expand his abilities to maintaining professional, harmonious relationship between communities and wildlife conservation bodies.

With help from our partners, we remain committed to supporting and empowering frontliners rangers like Billy with the necessary equipment and materials that they need to excel in their duties. You can help us support the rangers by donating today.