To celebrate this year's International Women's Day and the theme #ChooseToChallenge, we wanted to highlight the incredible work of Zimbabwe's all-female, all-vegan, anti-poaching unit known as the Akashinga or 'The Brave Ones.' A branch of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, many of the women that make up this incredible squad are single mothers, survivors of sexual or domestic abuse, widows or orphans. When coming up with a name for their group they chose Akashinga, ‘the Brave Ones’ in Shona. The women are responsible for patrolling and protecting the Phundundu Wildlife Park which is a 115 square mile former trophy hunting area that is home to around 11,000 endangered elephants. Phundundu is the first nature reserve in the world to be managed and protected by an all-women ranger unit. Though women rarely serve as rangers in Africa, the Akashinga have proven to be incredibly successful whilst also being far less violent and empowering women and local communities in the process.
Training to become an Akashinga ranger is intense and gruelling. The women must be prepared to face the harshest natural conditions as well as heavily-armed, dangerous poachers. For many of the women, though, they say that this training is easy as they have already 'been through hell.' These women and the work that they do is vital to their local communities. Over 60% of the Akashinga’s operational costs go directly back into local communities, and up to 80% of this goes directly to individual households. Their work proves to their communities that endangered wildlife are more valuable alive than dead. The income they provide is higher, longterm and sustainable for the community rather than the short-term financial returns of poaching. Akashinga yields the same profit in 34 days than trophy hunting yields in a year. While no definitive statistics exist on the number of women who professionally protect wildlife in Africa, a 2016 World Wildlife Fund survey of 570 rangers across 12 African countries found that just 19% were women, making the work of the Akashinga truly ground-breaking.
Since October 2017, the rangers have made or contributed to 72 arrests without firing a single shot, showing that conservation work does not have to be violent. The Akashinga plans to expand their conservation work. By 2025, they intend to recruit 1,000 women to protect a network of 20 former hunting reserves across Africa. The work that they do is not only securing a future for the species that live there, but also creating better lives for their communities, and inspiring people around the world to take action. Future Sibanda, an Akashinga ranger and single mother of 2 says it best. “Wildlife has the right to live,” she says. “I want my kids to have the opportunity to see animals, not only in photos and books, but alive and in nature.”
Watch the National Geographic documentary 'The Brave Ones' here.
Click here to make a donation to the IAPF and Akashinga project.
Follow Akashinga on Facebook here.