Would you stop a bullet for an elephant?

Would you stop a bullet for an elephant, asks a modest sign placed offroad,  deep inside Tsavo East National Park, a stone’s throw from Kenya’s Galana River. The sign is not too far from where a pair of lions, the infamous “Maneaters of Tsavo,” stopped construction on the Kenya-Uganda railroad dead in its tracks, around the turn of the 20th century.

This is wild Africa — and the sign is a reminder that, the romanticism of colonial days aside, protecting the continent’s threatened wildlife is a dangerous, sometimes deadly job.

That was thrown into relief yet again little more than a week ago, after a park ranger was killed by poachers and another seriously injured in Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Virunga National Park while protecting one of the last surviving family groups of the world’s few remaining mountain gorillas.

The attack underscores the threats that those on the front lines of conservation face every day, often for little pay, far away from the world’s media centres. When a park ranger is killed, he — and, increasingly, she — often leaves behind a family to support.

The name Patrick Prince Muhayirwa is not as easy to remember as George Adamson or Richard Leakey, but perhaps it should be. 

 © Brent Stirton, Getty Images, for National Geographic Special Investigations Unit.

© Brent Stirton, Getty Images, for National Geographic Special Investigations Unit.

As one can see from the links here, once again it was left to The Guardian and National Geographic to report the inconvenient truth that wildlife conservation isn’t all glamour and starry nights.

This isn’t meant as a downer, but rather a reality check. This is a time of year for reflection as much as it is anything else.

 © Brent Stirton, Getty Images, for National Geographic Special Investigations Unit.

© Brent Stirton, Getty Images, for National Geographic Special Investigations Unit.

A small but growing trend in gift-giving is support, in a family member or friend’s name, for the efforts of nongovernmental groups doing good works in parts ofr the world that resemble and occasionally are, as these articles suggest, actual war zones.

Would you stop a bullet for an elephant? Probably not, if you’re like pretty much anyone else.

Fortunately, though, for what remains of our living planet, there are those who would. And they’re on the front lines every day.