This All-Female Anti-Poaching Unit Is Saving African Wildlife
Since 2017, the Akashinga all-female, armed anti-poaching unit has been protecting wildlife in Zimbabwe. The word "Akashinga" translates to “the brave ones,” which accurately describes the courageous women in this unit.
Many of these women come from disadvantaged backgrounds, growing up within poverty, violence, and domestic abuse. They would not otherwise have opportunities for work, but being a ranger provides them with careers and a platform to "change the world for the better," according to the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF). The IAPF created the Akashinga program to function as a self-sustaining ranger program focused on employing and empowering disadvantaged women through biodiversity education, field skills, and creating an ecosystem that can be used to train new generations of rangers. Now, 62 percent of the operational costs of the Akashinga model go directly back to the local community, with 80 percent reaching people at a household level. The program aims to employ 1,000 female rangers by 2025 to protect 20 nature preserves in Zimbabwe.
To learn more about how Akashinga has changed women's lives, CircleAround caught up with a lead ranger, Nyaradzo Auxillia Hoto. From a poor community in rural Zimbabwe, Hoto grew up to become a sergeant. Now, she owns her own land, has a driver’s license (which is rare for women in her country), and is sending her children to school. To further enhance her role in the Akashinga corps, Hoto is currently studying science, wildlife, ecology, and conservation at a local university.
Hoto told CircleAround a bit about her background and her experiences working with this wildlife protection league.
CA: What events from your past impacted your career?
NH: I grew up in Huyo village, Nyamakate, located in Zimbabwe's mighty Zambezi valley, one of Africa's main arteries. I was raised in a poor family. My parents did not have enough money for me to continue with my educational dreams, and I was forced to drop out [of school].
I got married at the early age of 20, dreaming that I would have a helpful husband who believed in me and supported me. But my husband was a very violent and abusive man who preyed upon my vulnerabilities. He did not allow me to have a career. I could never dream how painful it was. I wondered and imagined myself living the whole of my life under this condition. I built up the courage and divorced him in 2014, leaving this life of abuse.
CA: Once you were free, what led you to become an Akashinga ranger?
NH: An opportunity came to join the newly formed Akashinga program as a ranger in 2017. I heard the news of the program through our community councilor. I grabbed this opportunity without failure. It was a once-in-a-lifetime breakthrough. This time, it was women they asked for. I passed the selection. It was tough, but I became a ranger.
My job and duty as a ranger has totally transformed my life. The braveness in me — I couldn’t ever have imagined it before. I now have a strong passion and love for wildlife and nature.
CA: What challenges do you face as a ranger?
NH: Our biggest challenge at first as an Akashinga ranger was to penetrate a male-dominated career. The community could not understand that we could equally do the job. The COVID 19 pandemic has impacted Akashinga unit operations. We used to deploy many call-signs in the field, but now we are forced to limit the number of rangers per group.
We had recruited more rangers, but now they are not yet trained due to this pandemic. We used to live as one family, as one group, but now the bond has been temporarily broken as we are forced to isolate in groups.
CA: Now that you’re a sergeant, what programs are you working on?
NH: Recently we have recruited more rangers and we are looking forward to training them. There is also an expansion of the concession (a grant of rights, land, or property by a government). Our responsibilities as rangers are increasing, and I am also happy that the newly recruited rangers are going to join us soon in protecting wildlife and nature.
Now we have managed to reduce elephant poaching by 80 percent in the region while winning the hearts and minds of the community.
World Ranger Day is July 31. To celebrate, CircleAround is proud to highlight the amazing female rangers working to eliminate poaching, maintain animal habitats, and preserve the welfare of animals in Africa and beyond.