The Akashinga, or “brave ones,” survived abuse and exploitation. Now, armed and trained like special forces, they're protecting the country’s most iconic wildlife.
A growing anti-poaching squad of female rangers in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi Valley is attracting international attention. It not only employs vulnerable, abused and disadvantaged young African women, but helps them gradually become leaders in their communities.
Akashinga, which means “the brave ones”, was founded by Australian military sniper Damien Mander, who saw the advantages of involving women from local communities: ”We have turned a security need into a community program,” he said.
Damien Mander is a tattoo-covered Aussie and former special forces soldier who has trained game rangers in Zimbabwe for more than a decade. His experiences serving in Iraq and on the front lines of Africa’s poaching war have taught him that change - be it peace among humans or attitudes about wildlife - can’t happen without buy-in from the community. “Local people have a vested interest in where they come from, where they live,” he says. “Foreigners don’t.”
After years of training male rangers, he concluded that in some ways women were better suited for the job. He found they were less susceptible to bribery from poachers and more adept at de-escalating potentially violent situations. He also knew that research shows working women in developing countries invest 90 percent of their income in their families, compared with 35 percent for men. In this regard, the rangers demonstrate a key conservation principle: Wildlife is worth more to the community alive than it is dead at the hands of poachers.
In just the first 5 months since inception, the armed anti-poacher women squad brought more money to the local communities than trophy hunting did in the year before. Also, it is shown, not only species are saved but entire ecosystems.