Everything that Lucrescencia Macuacua does is to honour her mother, including becoming a field ranger.
“My mother loved animals,” says the 35-year-old, who works in the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique. “She even named our cat after me.”
Last month, Macuacua was listed as a finalist in the best field ranger category of the Rhino Conservation Awards, hosted by the Game Rangers Association of Africa, in recognition of conservation heroes.
“My work is great, honourable and dignified,” she says. “I go out every day protecting the fauna by carrying out different types of patrols.”
Macuacua’s mother, who provided for her two daughters by selling tomatoes and vegetables in Maputo, died when she was 14.
“She always encouraged us to go to school. When she died, I wanted to realise her wish for us to be educated, that we must all attend school,” says Macuacua.
But her father did not approve of Macuacua’s pursuit of formal education. “He once beat me after he learnt that I am attending school, which he did not like,” she says.
After her mother’s death, Macuacua and her sister lived with neighbours and then their aunt in Inhambane, selling beans and peanuts to survive.
“We also had to collect water with 20-litre buckets and sell them in the neighbourhood so that we could buy books and go to school.”
She remembers watching a report on Mozambique television in 2012 about the importance of protecting elephants and lions, which prompted her to study fauna and ecotourism.
“The opportunity appeared to compete in the Limpopo National Park. I was submitted to physical preparation training together with the men and I managed to achieve my dream [to become] a field ranger,” says Macuacua.
There are numerous difficulties in the field: a bad road network, equipment shortages and roadblocks “perpetrated by communities living within the protected area whenever their relatives are caught in poaching activities” or when their livestock are attacked by wildlife.
Others include confrontations with dangerous wildlife.
“There are also illegal activities and poaching [using] snares, gin traps and poisoned animals. That leaves a huge concern in the reduction of fauna,” she says.
“We all know the dangers of this work and the challenge that lies ahead.
“Each creature was brought to the planet for a purpose, which means they play a big role in the ecosystem plus they don’t have a voice. I decided to be their voice to benefit future generations.”
Macuacua adds that her wish is to erect a tombstone for her mother as a memory “for her encouragement for me to prioritise education”.
Andrew Campbell, the chief executive officer of the Game Rangers Association of Africa, says he continues to be “amazed” by the number of good people and organisations involved in conservation who are celebrated in the awards, now in their 10th year.
“It’s so easy to get caught up in the doom and gloom of the crisis that our environment faces but we should never forget or fail to acknowledge the sacrifices being made every single day by good people doing extraordinary things working for nature,” he says.
The other finalists in Macuacua’s category are Samuel Ndlovu, of the Kruger National Park, and Sebenzile Rwexu of the Great Fish River Nature Reserve in the Eastern Cape.
A virtual event will be held on 25 August in celebration of the finalists and winners.