There’s A Group Of Women In Zimbabwe Who Risk Their Lives To Fight Poachers

No matter what some might say, women are more than capable of doing the same jobs as men – no matter how dangerous the task might be. And one group of women in Africa are doing just that. These brave women have formed the Akashinga unit, which is working to protect African wildlife against poaching. In recent years the number of poaching cases has increased.

Now, it’s the women of Zimbabwe who are standing up and saying enough is enough. This Akashinga team are working as Zimbabwe’s Phundundu Wildlife Area, a 115-square-mile protected area located in the Zambezi Valley.

These women form a highly-trained, quasi-military group that is a branch of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation. Their name, Akashinga, means “the brave ones” in their native language. Many of these women are also survivors of domestic abuse or sexual assault, and now they are taking on the role of protectors of the wildlife and land.

These amazing women were the focus of a short documentary on National Geographic produced by Canadian filmmaker and explorer James Cameron. The film is titled, “Akashinga: The Brave Ones.” In it, he explores how this group of women work together to protect such animals like lions, rhinos, and elephants from the threats of poachers, snares, and cyanide traps. The founder of the Akashinga unit was Damien Mander, a former Australian army sniper. Mander shared that he specifically wanted to recruit women for the job.

And it has proved to be a great decision since it has given many of these women a new lease on life. As one divorced mother from the Mashonaland West Province in Zimbabwe, Petronella Chigumbura, said to Elle, “As a woman, I was focused on using Akashinga as a tool to fight my battle for a better life. I can now feed my kids and pay school fees for them. I acquired a driver’s license, which is a big deal for women in Africa! I am also building a big house for my children. Now I have the pride of having my own future.”

Another woman, Nyaradzo Auxillia Hoto, shared that prior to the founding of the Akashinga team it was only men who were rangers. But afterward, she wanted to join in order to prove her community wrong that it was a man’s job. As she said to Elle, the program opened so many new opportunities for her. She stated, “I managed to pursue my educational dreams. I dropped out of school many years ago; I am now a part-time student at one of the universities in Zimbabwe, pursuing a bachelor’s degree with honors in science, wildlife, ecology, and conservation. I also managed to buy a plot of land in our community.”

While these women are proving that women can be just as hardcore as men, their job isn’t without its risks. In fact, it can even be deadly. Chigumbura spoke about a time when she arrested a poacher and things got difficult.

According to Elle, Chigumbura said the man was resisting arrest very aggressively – something that was a concern to the women as he was carrying both a sharp spear and a large knife. Chigumbura even shared that she’s had to arrest family before! For Chigumbura, the job of protecting the environment was much more important to her than familial ties. As she explained her priority, she said, “If we don’t catch [poachers], nothing will be left for the next generation.”

Hoto further elaborated on the sometimes harsh conditions of the job since poachers aren’t the women’s only threat. They also need to be wary of the very wildlife that they’re trying to protect since some of them can be rather fearsome predators. According to Elle, Hoto said that the very first time she met a lion, they were just a mere 10 meters away from it – scary!

But it seems that these women have found a way to forge a mutual understanding with the wild animals of the African plains. Hoto mentioned that the animals were frightened of them at first since they were so used to being shot at by poachers. However, Hoto feels that over time the animals have come to understand that these women are out there trying to protect them – and that has led to them developing an almost symbiotic relationship, one that Hoto classifies as “like a family.”

I think these women are just fantastic and are doing a wonderful job not only of protecting the environment but also breaking down the gendered barriers of being rangers. What do you think of the Akashinga? Let us know!

Watch the clip below:

Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.

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