Last week we were lucky enough to hear the wonderful Holly Budge speak at Experience Africa 2022 (hosted by ATTA) and tell us all about the inspiring work of Africa’s female rangers. The 23rd - 30th June marks World Female Ranger Week, an initiative launched by Holly, adventurer and explorer, to raise awareness about the women protecting Africa’s wildlife and conservation. The devastating consequences of poaching have been more prominent in recent years and remain the primary reason why animals may face extinction. Particularly in the wake of COVID-19, as tourism shut down, leading to less funding for parks and fewer people to patrol them. Last year alone, 209 rhinos were poached for their horn in Kruger National Park.
Whether the animals are hunted for ivory, bush meat, trophy hunting or medicinal purposes, the increased consumer demand has meant today's poachers are now increasingly well-armed, often with military-grade equipment and weapons. Although some poachers may come from further afield, many are recruited from within the local community. These community-led initiatives as you will go on to read are therefore imperative in combatting the illegal wildlife trade.
Many of the women forming these groups of rangers have had to overcome their own personal struggles, abuse, marginalisation, and trauma and are now empowered to enforce change. In what has historically been a man's role, many of these women are now breadwinners, able to afford their own homes, invest in their children’s education and provide for their future.
There’s a saying in Africa, ‘If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation,” The impact of their work is not just ‘on the field’ but also in inspiring young women and communities, acting as a beacon of strength, giving direction, hope and authority.
The Akashinga Rangers, which translates to “The Brave Ones” is just one of these inspiring groups of females… Founded in Zimbabwe by Damian Mander, a former Australian special forces soldier, the group has made over 300 arrests and successfully influenced the 80% downturn in poaching in the Lower Zambezi Valley. He teaches these women not just about the use of weapons and defence, but how community involvement and education could in future eradicate the need for armed struggles. Their aim is to arrest poachers, without the need to fire a single bullet, however with the likelihood of poachers being armed, the need for weapons remains. The training is rigorous, and not everyone will complete it. Three days of military exercises, exposing each to the four pillars of misery – cold, tired, hungry and wet, pushing each of them to their limits. Originally starting with just 16 women, the unit has now grown to 200, who patrol the vast landscape across eight reserves. In the next few years, the group hopes to grow to 1000 rangers, increasing the number of reserves patrolled to 20.
Brent Stirton - Akashinga Rangers (Images 1-3) & Julia Gunth - Black Mambas (Image 4).