It shouldn't be surprising that the majority of professional wildlife protectors in Africa are men, but this group of 'Brave Ones' are proving why women deserve a place among their ranks.
Called the Akashinga (a word that means 'the brave ones'), this armed, all-female, anti-poacher unit has made 72 arrests since October 2017 — without firing a single shot.
Damien Mander served in the Australian military as a clearance diver and special operations sniper. According to the BBC, after his military service he felt increasingly dissatisfied with his life, until "a stint in Southern Africa opened his eyes to the escalating plight of elephants and rhinos," who were being illegally slaughtered for ivory.
Mander created the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, which brought a militarized approach to animal protection. It was successful — but it wasn't sustainable. He realized that he needed to involve the local population. In 2015, he read about the U.S. Army Ranger School's female graduates and was inspired. He decided to recruit women to become wildlife rangers for Africa.
According to the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, trophy hunting areas across Africa take up an expanse greater than all of France. Meanwhile, "a woman with a salary in rural Africa invests up to three times more than a male into their family." By employing women from these communities, Akashinga created a program that affords a better financial return than what trophy hunting provided.
And it works.
Not only have the Akashinga been successfully carrying out their mission, they have also been operating without any hint of corruption. Most of the women have adopted a vegan and sober lifestyle. They educate children and invest in their community.
While it's too early to predict the long-term viability of the program, early successes are worth investing in. The International Anti-Poaching Foundation aims to recruit a total of 2000 women, protecting a network spanning 30 million acres of African wilderness by 2030, according to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
Featured image via the International Anti-Poaching Foundation Facebook page.