It’s easy to feel discouraged about saving wildlife and our planet in this era of ecological crisis. That’s why the story of the Akashinga—which means “the brave ones” in the Shona language–is so timely and inspiring.
The Akashinga is a nonprofit, armed, all-female, anti-poaching unit. The women patrol Zimbabwe’s Phundundu Wildlife Area, where thousands of elephants have been killed by poachers in the last two decades. In the past few years, these brave women have proven to themselves and their communities that they are more effective at deescalating conflict and protecting wildlife than men can be.
The Akashinga project is the brainchild of Damien Mander, a former special forces soldier in Australia who had trained game wardens in Africa for over ten years. By recruiting local women—many of whom had been subject to domestic violence, sexual assault, or other trauma—Mander empowered formerly exploited people to protect wildlife from exploitation.
This project has been so successful that Mander, through the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, is in the process of selecting and training another 160 women to fight poachers in Zimbabwe.
All groups benefit from this model: the women earn financial independence, self-respect, and close bonds with each other; the communities are enriched by their income; and the elephants gain fierce protectors. It sounds like a win-win-win situation.
by Elana Kupor