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On Patrol with the Wildlife Rangers of Chinko – Photo Essay

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Suspected poachers caught in Chinko arrive at the park’s main base. Rangers put them in handcuffs, sit them down together, then take them to a holding cell. The moment is the culmination of a week-long operation by Chinko’s law-enforcement and aerial patrol teams. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Suspected poachers caught in Chinko arrive at the park’s main base. Rangers put them in handcuffs, sit them down together, then take them to a holding cell. The moment is the culmination of a week-long operation by Chinko’s law-enforcement and aerial patrol teams. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Deep in the heart of Africa, a dedicated group of rangers patrol the Chinko nature reserve. In baking equatorial heat, they are weighed down with body armour and camouflage fatigues. Beads of sweat run down their faces; mosquitos whine. The men keep watch over a vast patchwork of savanna and rainforest in the Central African Republic – a country mired in civil strife and one of the many frontlines of a poaching war that spans the continent and reaches across the globe.

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The Chinko reserve in the Central African Republic is almost twice the size of Yellowstone national park in the US. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

The Chinko reserve in the Central African Republic is almost twice the size of Yellowstone national park in the US. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018. 

Chinko’s rangers are the guardians of an ecosystem that is home to a rich variety of species. These include buffalos, chimpanzees, forest elephants, leopards, lions and the icon of this park, the giant eland – an imposing antelope.

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Spotted during an aerial patrol, hartebeest - a type of antelope - are seen bounding through the Chinko plains. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Spotted during an aerial patrol, hartebeest - a type of antelope - are seen bounding through the Chinko plains. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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A pod of hippos is spotted in the river. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

A pod of hippos is spotted in the river. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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A family of warthogs runs across the airstrip at the main base in Chinko. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

A family of warthogs runs across the airstrip at the main base in Chinko. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

With no permanent human settlement, the land around the Chinko river basin offers one of the largest intact wildernesses in central Africa. But these rangers face an array of dangers: poachers, rebel militants, cattle herders, diamond miners. All of these intruders are well-armed and determined to rip out the resources from this remote sanctuary.

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Rangers arrive at Chinko’s shooting range to practise firing a recently arrived haul of machine-guns. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Rangers arrive at Chinko’s shooting range to practise firing a recently arrived haul of machine-guns. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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Rangers cover their ears as an assistant law-enforcement manager fires one of the powerful machine-guns at Chinko’s shooting range. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Rangers cover their ears as an assistant law-enforcement manager fires one of the powerful machine-guns at Chinko’s shooting range. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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Rangers and other Chinko workers watch a French Ligue 1 football game projected onto a big screen at the end of the working day. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Rangers and other Chinko workers watch a French Ligue 1 football game projected onto a big screen at the end of the working day. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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Rangers practise taking apart and reassembling their rifles during a training session. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Rangers practise taking apart and reassembling their rifles during a training session. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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Rangers go on a morning jog down the main airstrip. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Rangers go on a morning jog down the main airstrip. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018. 

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An imam leads prayers at the end of a meeting between Chinko park manager David Simpson and the elders of a community displaced by violence into the remote wilds of the reserve. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

An imam leads prayers at the end of a meeting between Chinko park manager David Simpson and the elders of a community displaced by violence into the remote wilds of the reserve. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Day-to-day, Chinko is managed by David Simpson, a 30-year-old from North Yorkshire.

Poaching and cattle migrations would present enough of a conservation headache. But the struggle to protect Chinko is made even harder by a brutal armed conflict that has engulfed the country for years. War broke out in 2013 when a predominantly-Muslim rebel coalition known as the Séléka overthrew the government and committed widespread atrocities.

An alliance of mostly Christian militias known as the anti-balaka carried out vicious reprisals, with subsequent clashes killing thousands. After a brief lull, the Séléka splintered into rival groups, with violence uprooting hundreds of thousands of people. Last year, fighting brought the country’s humanitarian crisis to Chinko. Militants attacked a nearby town and forced more than 300 civilians into the reserve; Chinko’s employees have offered them food and shelter, and, more recently, helped them return home.

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One afternoon, several Chinko employees flew out by helicopter to meet with the displaced community sheltering in the park. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

One afternoon, several Chinko employees flew out by helicopter to meet with the displaced community sheltering in the park. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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A representative of the Central African government accompanies the visit to civilians who were forced from their homes by vicious fighting and into Chinko. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

A representative of the Central African government accompanies the visit to civilians who were forced from their homes by vicious fighting and into Chinko. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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War broke out in 2013 when a rebel coalition known as the Séléka overthrew the government, committed widespread atrocities against civilians and put in power the country’s first Muslim president. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

War broke out in 2013 when a rebel coalition known as the Séléka overthrew the government, committed widespread atrocities against civilians and put in power the country’s first Muslim president. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Chinko is run by African Parks, a conservation non-profit with a 1,000-strong ranger force that operates in a network of reserves spanning 10.5m hectares across nine countries.

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Simpson, the park manager, (left) inspects a bush plane undergoing repairs inside a hanger at Chinko. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Simpson, the park manager, (left) inspects a bush plane undergoing repairs inside a hanger at Chinko. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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Lebron Baroka, an 18-year-old from a militia-controlled town called Bangassou, works as a tailor at Chinko. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Lebron Baroka, an 18-year-old from a militia-controlled town called Bangassou, works as a tailor at Chinko. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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Chinko employees wash their clothes and other belongings in a stream near the park's main base. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Chinko employees wash their clothes and other belongings in a stream near the park's main base. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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Oumar Abdouly, 24, recuperates in Chinko’s clinic after falling ill with parasites. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Oumar Abdouly, 24, recuperates in Chinko’s clinic after falling ill with parasites. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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Dieudonné, a ranger, returns from patrol and hands his weapon over to senior ranger Saint-Cyr in Chinko’s armoury. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Dieudonné, a ranger, returns from patrol and hands his weapon over to senior ranger Saint-Cyr in Chinko’s armoury. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Last year, the organisation says its rangers removed more than 48,000 snares and traps, confiscated almost 50 tonnes of bushmeat and helped secure 282 convictions. “Rangers are the frontline defence against the intense and ever-present risk of poaching in Africa’s critical conservation areas,” said African Parks CEO, Peter Fearnhead. “Their efforts are building a future in which people and wildlife can benefit from stable and ecologically functioning landscapes.”

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Cédric Ganière, one of the Chinko’s pilots, flies over a bushfire on the savannah in his tiny, two-seater plane during a mission to spot blazes lit by cattle herders. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Cédric Ganière, one of the Chinko’s pilots, flies over a bushfire on the savannah in his tiny, two-seater plane during a mission to spot blazes lit by cattle herders. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Each dry season, armed nomads lead thousands of cows from Chad and Sudan towards grasslands further south, poaching wildlife on the side and lighting massive wildfires.

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On the back of a 4x4, a unit of rangers heads back to base through the parched trees on Chinko’s savannah. The training process is stringent and the men face well-armed poachers when on patrol. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

On the back of a 4x4, a unit of rangers heads back to base through the parched trees on Chinko’s savannah. The training process is stringent and the men face well-armed poachers when on patrol. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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The River Chinko winds through the south of this vast park, surrounded by lush tropical forest. In its waters are fish, crocodiles and hippo - all attractive targets for poachers who sneak into the reserve. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

The River Chinko winds through the south of this vast park, surrounded by lush tropical forest. In its waters are fish, crocodiles and hippo - all attractive targets for poachers who sneak into the reserve. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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A pirogue carrying a suspected poacher and his equipment is spotted on the River Vovodo in the park’s south-east. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

A pirogue carrying a suspected poacher and his equipment is spotted on the River Vovodo in the park’s south-east. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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Two rangers pose for a photo next to machetes, knives, spades and other equipment which have been confiscated from poachers and laid out at Chinko’s HQ. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Two rangers pose for a photo next to machetes, knives, spades and other equipment which have been confiscated from poachers and laid out at Chinko’s HQ. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

In recent years, cattle swarmed through the park. But outreach campaigns, ranger patrols and the occasional shoot-out have pushed out these herders and their mass of cows, creating an environment for wildlife to thrive once more. In this, one of the most anarchic and marginalised areas on Earth, Chinko’s rangers are the region’s sole security force.

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Davis, a Chinko employee, monitors various screens in the park’s control room where software plots ranger movement, bushfires and other crucial information on a Google Earth map. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Davis, a Chinko employee, monitors various screens in the park’s control room where software plots ranger movement, bushfires and other crucial information on a Google Earth map. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Such threats are by no means confined only to Chinko. In wildlife reserves across the world, rangers put their lives on the line daily to protect our shared natural heritage from poachers whose brutal trade is fuelled by the insatiable demand for bushmeat, ivory, animal skin and traditional medicine.

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After days of pursuit, Chinko’s rangers have caught two suspected poachers deep in the Chinko bush. A raid on a their camp uncovered shotguns, machetes and carcasses of antelope, buffalo, crocodile, hippo and monkey. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

After days of pursuit, Chinko’s rangers have caught two suspected poachers deep in the Chinko bush. A raid on a their camp uncovered shotguns, machetes and carcasses of antelope, buffalo, crocodile, hippo and monkey. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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Two suspected poachers arrested deep in the Chinko bush are escorted to a helicopter, which will fly back to base. There, the men will be questioned in a holding cell. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Two suspected poachers arrested deep in the Chinko bush are escorted to a helicopter, which will fly back to base. There, the men will be questioned in a holding cell. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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Suspected poachers caught in Chinko arrive at the park’s main base. Rangers put them in handcuffs, sit them down together, then take them to a holding cell. The moment is the culmination of a week-long operation by Chinko’s law-enforcement and aerial patrol teams. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Suspected poachers caught in Chinko arrive at the park’s main base. Rangers put them in handcuffs, sit them down together, then take them to a holding cell. The moment is the culmination of a week-long operation by Chinko’s law-enforcement and aerial patrol teams. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

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Rangers frogmarch suspected poachers to a holding cell at the park’s main base. Three days later, Chinko’s management will be left with no choice but to pay for a helicopter that will take the group to the capital and transfer them into CAR’s justice system. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

Rangers frogmarch suspected poachers to a holding cell at the park’s main base. Three days later, Chinko’s management will be left with no choice but to pay for a helicopter that will take the group to the capital and transfer them into CAR’s justice system. Image by Jack Losh. Central African Republic, 2018.

July 31 each year is World Ranger day– an occasion that commemorates the rangers killed or injured in the field. The day also celebrates the work of these courageous men and women who protect the planet’s endangered species and natural treasures, often at great personal sacrifice, far from their families.