In the distance, a lone elephant disappears into the foliage with a lumbering gait and lazy flicks of its tail.
The Akashinga stand in the distance watching, their AR-15s poised at eye level, to ensure the elephant’s safe passage. And not a single man is among them.
Roughly 11,000 elephants have been lost to poachers in Zimbabwe’s Lower Zambezi Valley just in the last decade, leading to the creation of the Akashinga (“The Brave Ones”).Facebook
It’s the brainchild of Damien Mander, an Australian military-trained sniper who also operates the International Anti-Poaching Foundation. He formed Akashinga after learning of a similar, all-female (but unarmed) unit dedicated to fighting poaching in South Africa.
Women, he says, are better suited for these units then men. Most are single mothers and many come from disadvantaged backgrounds, which only serves to strengthen their resolve. Nearly 200 men signed up for anti-poaching activities years earlier, but by the end of the first day, only three were left.
Thirty-six women started our training, modelled on our special-forces training, and we pushed them hard, much harder than any training we do with men. Only three dropped out. I couldn’t believe it.
Vimbai Kumire, who was recently promoted in her unit, speaks to that resolve, saying:
It’s very difficult to catch a poacher who lives in the same village as you or the next village, but (whether) you are my neighbor or my relative, if you do something wrong to my animals, I’ll catch you.
Vimbai is a 32-year-old single mother whose husband left when she was pregnant with their second child. For her, like many others, Akashinga provides not only a way to make money but also a way to regain the power she lost in her marriage.Facebook
Another member, Nyaradzo Hoto, said she was exploited by her former husband, and during the course of their marriage, “I just saw all of my goals being shattered down.” In her new position, she adds, she wants to prove “that no job is only meant for men.”
Watch the clip below to hear more about this powerful group of women working to effect change in their communities.
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