On patrol with the wildlife rangers of Chinko photo essay

Rangers in this Central African Republic nature reserve face an array of dangers in their bid to protect a rich variety of species

On patrol with the wildlife rangers of Chinko  photo essay

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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Chinkos 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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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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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 Slka 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 Slka splintered into rival groups, with violence uprooting hundreds of thousands of people. Last year, fighting brought the countrys humanitarian crisis to Chinko. Militants attacked a nearby town and forced more than 300 civilians into the reserve; Chinkos employees have offered them food and shelter, and, more recently, helped them return home.

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