Akashinga is an all-women armed conservation group on the frontline, battling poachers in Zimbabwe and risking their lives to protect elephants, rhinos and other endangered species in the Zambezi valley. Akashinga means “one with courage/brave ones” in the Shona language, a befitting title for those courageous women, who have won awards and acclaim for their work.
The troop was started by an Australian, Damien Mander, who was a soldier before his epiphany led him to protect the environment. A safari trip to Africa exposed him to the scourge of poaching. This inspired him to start the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, an organisation which fights poaching in the Zambezi valley.
Upon realising that decades old ranger strategies were no match for poachers, who were now using sophisticated weapons and tactics, he decided to form a team of rangers to fight the wildlife thieves. As a result of a chance meeting with the all female Black Mamba rangers, working in the Kruger National Park, he decided to have an all female team patrolling the vast Zambezi.
Disadvantaged women from the local community, including orphaned and widowed women, commercial sex workers and women who had endured domestic abuse, were chosen to “audition” to join. 36 women took part in the training, where they learned how to protect wildlife, how to handle dangerous animals, democratic policing, firearms safety, first aid, human rights, patrolling and hand-to-hand combat. Only three women pulled out of the demanding training programme.
“A growing body of evidence suggests that empowering women is the single biggest force for positive change in the world today,” reads an official statement from IAPF on why it had taken the decision to empower women in a traditionally male-dominated industry. “The best way to get buy-in from the community on conservation is to involve women,” said Damien Mander, justifying his initiative in employing an all women team of rangers.
These formidable ladies of the Akashinga project earn a salary and through the International
Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) 83 households benefit from the programme, a total of 498 individuals. Women rangers are the pride of the community. The conservancy area of
Zambezi survives on trophy hunting but the Akashinga project has directly benefited the area.
“Before I became a ranger, it was difficult for me to survive. I was jobless but now I can afford to send my child and my younger brother to school and I don’t have to depend on anyone. I love my job and I love my animals. What was difficult was the training but that made me even stronger,” said Nyaradzo Hoto, one of the Akashinga rangers who patrol the area.
The risk is real, as daring poachers will stop at nothing to get elephant tusks and rhino horns, feeding the multi-billion dollar industry. Poachers will not hesitate to kill anyone who gets in their way. Thousands of animals have been killed in a span of a decade and rangers can pay the maximum price of their lives to protect the wildlife.
The Akashinga project is managed the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), which is supported by conservation partners, as well as well-wishers who support the cause.
Photo credit: AKASHINGA FACEBOOK & IAPF