Ranger exchange

• Gooniyandi ranger Virgil Cherel (far right) with the team under Kilamanjaro. Photos courtesy Thin Green Line Foundation.

A DOCUMENTARY about Aboriginal rangers and a musician who went to Kenya to share their cultural heritage with Maasai rangers will premiere at Perth Zoo next month.

Maasai warrior and head ranger Joseph Kotoke spends his day tracking elephants and confronting poachers, while Kija ranger Imran Paddy monitors Aussie critters and could treat a snake bite with his eyes closed.

Both work hard to conserve the land their people have lived on for thousands of years.

But Aboriginal elders worried that Paddy and his colleagues were struggling to connect with their job – perhaps given they’re often under-equipped and underpaid – while the Maasai are internationally known for the pride they have in their task.

After a visit to WA by a group of Kenyan Maasai rangers in 2014, the elders decided to look into an exchange program to give their young folk some inspiration.

Warrior

Joining the nine rangers from WA and the Northern Territory on the trip was acclaimed Gurindjii and Eastern Arente musician, Dan Sultan.

The cultural exchange was organised by the Australian-based Thin Green Line Foundation, a small team who provide international support to frontline rangers.

Many of the Aboriginal rangers who travelled to Africa had never owned passports and some hadn’t even left their home towns.

Imran Paddy became a Kija ranger when he was 20 and said the trip was life changing.

“The Maasai rangers were pretty cool, hard working rangers,” he says.

“We found we are different tribes of rangers that all work as one whole group to do the job.”

He was impressed by Maasai warrior Mr Kotoke, who became a ranger at 13, and over the years has been knocked over by rhinos, chased by elephants and fought with poachers.

While most of the Maasai rangers are unarmed, Mr Kotoke is group leader and carries a shotgun or rifle.

“It’s a pretty dangerous job,” he says.

“I lost one of my closest friends and the best ranger I knew when he was trampled by an elephant. But we have to preserve our wildlife for future generations.

“I work for my community and with my people to do this.”

He says the Maasai and Australian Aboriginal rangers learnt a lot from each other.

“We are the same,” he says. “No matter what country we are from, we are still rangers, doing the same thing together. They are conservationists and so are we.

“It’s really important that we look after country and respect it in the proper way as our elders did,” says Gooniyandi ranger Virgil Cherel, who works east of Fitzroy.

Both he and Mr Paddy say they came home with a new appreciation for their work.

Foundation founder Sean Willmore says “The Aboriginal people of Australia were the first park-ranger type people looking after our country and they didn’t have a badge or a title, they’ve always just done it.

“The ranger programs in Indigenous communities are so successful because they’ve been protecting our country forever.”

Ranger to Ranger was made by AFI award-winning film maker Rhys Graham, who offered his services for free.

Ranger to Ranger will premiere at Perth Zoo on October 6 and will include a Q&A with Mr Kotoke.

by MOLLY SCHMIDT

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