In Zimbabwe there is a new sherif in town. Well, ranger. These rangers are the first armed, all-female anti-poaching units in Africa.* The fact that they carry weapons, AR-15s to be exact, is as big of a deal to some men in the area as the fact that they are female.
I’m more interested in the women themselves.
These women named their squad the Akashinga, which means “Brave Ones” in Shona. Appropriate since these rangers have dramatic histories of sexual abuse, abandonment, and physical violence.
Badly beaten by her boyfriend, one ranger carries a deep scar across her lips. Another–abandoned by her husband while pregnant with their second child–works to support her family. And another–Petronella Chigumbura–impregnated during a rape, now works as a ranger to take care of her daughter.
It’s no accident that a majority of these women have survived so much. In fact, they were purposefully recruited from the most disadvantaged, abused, and intolerable situations in Zimbabwe by an ex-Special Forces sniper, Damien Mander.
Huh, an ex-Special Forces soldier starts an organization that hires women from abused and intolerable situations to work for a greater cause and become empowered. Sounds like a novel. Sounds a bit like my novel.
But in this case, the ex-Special Forces soldier is an Australian vegan who began the International Anti-Poaching Foundation. Not an American named Sandesh Ross who started the International Peace Team.
And this is reality.
So why did Damien Mander decide to organize a group of disenfranchised women to fight poaching in Africa? Well, the cool factor certainly didn’t escape his notice. But it was also because there are more opportunities to get funds for groups like this that empower women than for conservation.
He effectively helped women, increased funding for his organization, and discovered a whole new way of approaching poachers. Because, as it turns out, women rangers tend to deescalate rather than escalate a situation.
Damien has also said in numerous interviews and talks that these women seem to be incorruptible. Whereas many male rangers feel pressure to let people from their villages poach, these women don’t play favorites.
As Damien Mander said when interviewed by Maria Fotopoulos of the Revelator, “Women will change the face of conservation forever.” Just when you thought these ladies couldn’t get any cooler. Did I mention that many of them are vegan? Yep. And that’s not all.
According to Borgen Magazine, “Since October 2017, 72 poacher arrests have been made by the Akashinga” and “Akashinga rangers bring a stable source of income both to themselves and to their community.”
That income is a big deal. These women help their communities–places that once looked to poaching to help bring in income–accept conservation. That’s because 72% of the money these women make go back into the community, compared to 3% of male rangers.
At the same time they provide for their communities, these rangers provide a positive example of female empowerment. Probably why over 2,000 people from local communities came to see the first graduating class of Akashinga rangers.
So, yeah, there’s a new sheriff–uhm, ranger–in town. And these determined and clever women make conservation cool, contribute to their communities, take care of their families, and are all around badasses.
To support the conservation efforts of these women please visit The International Anti-Poaching Foundation.
*There is another group of anti-poaching women called the Black Mamba who do not carry weapons.
Maria FotoPoulos. The Fight to Stop Poaching: What if We’ve Been Doing it Wrong. The Revelator, July 16, 2018 Taken on February 21st from https://therevelator.org/poaching-akashinga/
Staff report. Wildlife Conservation and Female Empowerment in Zimbabwe. Borgen Magazine, February 17,2019 taken on February 21st from: https://bit.ly/2TbTyJK
Starre Vartan. This all-women anti-poaching team is changing the face of animal conservation in Zimbabwe. Mother Nature Network, April 9, 2018
Rachel Nuwer. Meet the Brave Ones: women saving Africa’s wildlife. BBC.com, Sept 27, 2018. Taken on February 21st, 2019
Check out the Akashinga rangers on Facebook