On July 26, 2023, the IUCN / WCPA recognized nine exceptional rangers and ranger teams from around the globe in a virtual award ceremony. The 2023 top award went to the Desniansko-Starohutskyi National Park ranger team in Ukraine who showed exceptional courage and determination to protect this globally important protected area despite a temporary occupation and bombardments of the park by Russia.

Protected Area Rangers are at the forefront of conservation efforts and their work is largely unrecognized, under-appreciated, and under-resourced. The International Ranger Awards aims to change that by acknowledging and celebrating the outstanding work, accomplishments, dedication and bravery these rangers demonstrate on a daily basis.

The prestigious International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) International Ranger Awards acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of these unsung heroes who work tirelessly to protect and conserve the world’s natural heritage for generations to come. Not only do rangers assume pivotal roles in safeguarding natural areas, but they also serve as leaders, educators, and conservationists for local communities by acting as guardians for humanity and culture.

This could not have been better epitomized by the men and women ranger team of Desniansko-Starohutskyi National Nature Park in Ukraine.

How speechless we are in the face of this exemplary group of rangers who in the midst of war became guardians of biodiversity, culture, and humanity,” said Ivy Farheen Hussain, host of the award ceremony and a conservationist and member of the IUCN WCPA network.

The nine member Ukrainian ranger team was awarded the top prize for the exceptional work and selfless dedication to perform their duties even in the face of war. For the last 20 years, the rangers of Desniansko-Starohutskyi National Nature Park have overcome many challenges to achieve high levels of protection for the park’s biodiversity-rich wetlands and grasslands, a vital refuge for tens of thousands of migrating geese.

But today the rangers’ work has become more critical and dangerous as the park is in a warzone. The park is located on the very border between Ukraine and Russia, and on February 24, 2022, Russian troops entered its territory. During a month of occupation by Russia, the park rangers established the park as a humanitarian hub, helping local residents, while in May this year the Park visitor center was bombed and destroyed by Russia. Despite the park being under Russian occupation — and therefore being cut off from the rest of Ukraine — the Desniansko-Starohutskyi National Nature Park rangers continued their duties of protecting the park from poachers and illegal logging without the possibility of receiving support from the state.

In addition to the Ukrainian ranger team, five individual rangers and three additional ranger teams received awards. The other winners work across Bhutan, Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, and South Africa. Each winner or winning team received an award ranging from $10,000-25,000 to support the protected and conserved areas where they work.

“Judging was extremely challenging with over 114 outstanding ranger nominations from 52 countries,” said Dr. Caitlin Eschmann, Executive Director of Conservation Allies, and one of the judges for the awards. “But we are delighted to honor the extraordinary achievements and valor of nine winners from over 286,000 rangers worldwide. This year’s winners are rangers on the front-line of conservation action. These individuals stood out as they have worked tirelessly throughout their careers to protect and safeguard our natural heritage.”

The winners of the 2023 IUCN-WCPA International Ranger Awards are:

  • Desniansko-Starohutskyi National Park Ranger Team (9 members), Ukraine (First)
  • Fetiya Ousman, Babile Elephant Sanctuary, Ethiopia (Second)
  • Anton Mzimba, Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, South Africa (Third)
  • Cristian Andrés Vásquez Bermúdez, Reserva Proaves El Dorado, Colombia (runner-up)
  • Ismael Gálvez Gálvez, El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, Mexico (runner-up)
  • Maria Bernadete Silva Barbosa, Marinho dos Abrolhos National Park, Brazil  (runner-up)
  • Biological Corridor 3 Ranger Team (10 members), Bhutan (runner-up)
  • Royal Belum State Park ‘Menraq’ Team (5 members), Malaysia (runner-up)
  • Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Ranger Team (4 members), Philippines (runner-up)

The IUCN / WCPA International Ranger Awards are funded by Conservation Allies and Global Tiger Initiative with the collaboration of the International Ranger Federation, IUCN-US, Universal Ranger Support Alliance, and Re:wild.