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Image: Women Rangers are training to guard elephants from poachers

Single Mothers are Saving Africa’s Endangered Wildlife

If you picture the people—outfitted with semi-automatic weapons and military training—who are protecting the last individuals of endangered wildlife in Africa, who would they be? Would you happen to envision ranks of women, often single mothers?

In fact, that’s who is turning out to be well suited for the job! And it’s a fascinating story of untapped potential that might point to possibility all over our planet.

In this edition of Saturdays Around the World, we take you to the lower Zambezi River Valley, where notions about who is well-suited to protect precious wildlife, have changed dramatically.

Image: Women Anti-Poaching Rangers are training to guard wildlife (especially elephants) from poachers
Source: International Anti Poaching Foundation

Thanks to some counter-intuitive thinking by remarkable thought leader, Damien Mander, women are turning out to be the wildlife rangers we need—facing some of the harshest realities in conservation.

Their perseverance and commitment to community have turned out to be a new recipe for success in the first major improvement in anti-poaching tactics in decades. Best of all, they bring it all back to “community”, where all the best problem-solving takes place.

There are so many insights and innovations in this one project that I just don’t know where to start. This is a story of finding the courage to abandoning long-held assumptions. It’s a story of taking risks and finding astonishing potential. Additionally, it’s an example of finding remarkable potential in one of society’s most disenfranchised groups. It may just suggest to us all that we should turn over some new rocks in our own efforts to solve problems.

“You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both.”

Brené Brown

How about we go straight to the video that first brought this great organization to our attention. I’ll tell you much more about the founder and this ingenious concept after you understand why we should care. Take a look:

Via: International Anti-Poaching Foundation 1

Inspiring and very thought-provoking, huh? The more we learn about the Akashinga Project, the more we can expand this new way of thinking to solve some of our most vexing problems. Here’s why:

Community Can Trump Confrontation

Of course, at the heart of the success story here must be the notion of finding solutions that support surrounding communities, instead of alienating them. I couldn’t help but consider what this approach might spawn if applied to other vexing problems around the world.

Did you catch the comments in the video that point to the transforming role of these women in their communities?

  • They use their earnings to improve the lives of the people around them. A woman with a salary in rural Africa invests up to 3 times more than a male into their family.
  • They are looked upon with high esteem, which attracts others and makes the project sustainable.
  • This new way of doing things fosters harmonious relationships with local communities as the best defense against illegal wildlife crime. Perhaps they are also less threatening and confrontational when someone in their community needs a course correction?
  • It’s easy to see the connection between empowering young women and inspiring their children to be better stewards and leaders as they grow up.

Even if we set aside the fact that these women are courageously fighting on the front lines for each of us, the possibilities must radiate outward in all directions from there.

I suspect we can see the scope of those possibilities when we look at the wonderful board of advisors that Damien has assembled. This board starts with the amazing Jane Goodall, and includes remarkable thought-leaders in international law, environmental security, academia and wildlife conservation.

So, how did this all begin?

Damien has been training and advocating for Game Rangers since he founded IAPF in 2009 and as he progressed, he began to question old assumptions about what success could look like. This attempt to build a better model for protecting wildlife is a great example of insight on its leading edges. It’s important to keep in mind that the Akashinga Project was founded in 2017.

Prior to that, Damien made some remarkable TED Talks that began raising awareness and support. To learn about the origins of Akashinga and really understand the gravity of the situation, here is Damien Mander’s transforming TED Talk. See what you think:

Via: TEDx 2

“Good ideas are common – what’s uncommon are people who’ll work hard enough to bring them about.”

Ashleigh Brilliant

So… why should we care?

Doing the research for this part of our article was a real eye-opener for me. Of course, I’m “all in” with the rationale that we should preserve our planet for future generations. Additionally, my compassion for wildlife and their stewards is bottomless. However, what I really wanted to uncover was some tangible reasons beyond sentiment.

It didn’t take long to find that.

According to many authorities, the illegal trade of endangered animal parts—ivory, rhino horns, tiger skins, shark fins, etc—has a destabilizing effect that eventually lands on all our doorsteps. The trade has become a major source of funding for cash-starved terrorist organizations around the world, netting 10 billion a year according to the World Wildlife Fund. 3

In fact, a fabulous NBC news article laid out exactly how poaching effects us all by increasing governmental corruption around the world. This discourages foreign investment, which in turn keeps people poorer, uneducated, and more desperate than ever. Legitimate livelihoods become rare and that sets the table for terrorist groups to thrive. Sound familiar?

Apparently, some experts think that’s why there seems to have been an overnight surge in wildlife poaching—terrorists have found a new pipeline for funding.

More than 1,200 rhinos would be poached in South Africa in 2015, when Damien gave that talk, compared to only 13 that were illegally killed in 2007. 4

One elephant is killed every 15 minutes to satisfy the demand in the illegal ivory trade. 5 Thankfully, elephant numbers have dropped 62% in the last decade.

No species on the planet can sustain that kind of pressure! The only chance these animals have is in the training and support of game rangers. And we all win when game rangers can do their job safely and effectively.

Game Rangers Are On the Front Lines For Us All

In doing some research I found that the trophy hunting industry in Africa is actually declining rapidly. This may sound like good news to some, but it’s actually leaving huge tracks of wilderness unmonitored and the surrounding communities without any incentive to act with a conservation mindset. But this may be the perfect time for the role of women to enter the struggle. The rangers in the Akashinga Units can immediately infuse these communities with a shared purpose and new sources of revenue.

From the IAPF website, I learned that Akashinga employs the most marginalized women from rural communities; educating and training them to be anti-poaching rangers and biodiversity managers—as well as protecting the large landscapes previously reserved for and financed by trophy hunting.

Let’s have a look at one more uplifting look at the determination and joy of these unique women:

Via: BBC News 6

Fortunately, 72% of operational costs of the Akashinga model go directly back to the local communities, therefore turning biodiversity conservation into a community project. As it turns out, this is a better financial return for the local community than what trophy hunting used to provide!

If you’d like to see a really well-done website and learn more about Damien and his work, head on over to the IAPF’s page for the Akashinga Female Anti-Poaching Unit.

Orangutan Culture Feels Very… Familiar

We share 97% of our DNA with orangutans, but what we’ve known about their cultural customs and habits have been limited… until now.

Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast

In June of 2018, the Akashinga Rangers performed two raids in three days. They arrested three members of one of Zimbabwe’s most elusive ivory (Elephant poaching) syndicates. There was no violence as a part of the raid and all evidence was preserved and seized. Most importantly, all three received mandatory prison sentences of 9 years each!

Not bad for the anti-poaching rangers just having finished their training only 10 months prior to the raids.

Just think of the future of these amazing rangers! They’ve barely begun to tap into the power of community networking and changing the hearts and minds of their neighbors. So, what’s next?

Want to support these wonderful efforts? Let the Akashinga Unit hear from you! Here’s a link to the IAPF Get Involved page.

Finally, I’ll close with a quote that reminds us all to do what we can:

Believe in something larger than yourself. . . . Get involved in the big ideas of your time.

Barbara Bush

If all the bad news in the world leaves you feeling overwhelmed, the best antidote might be to chose a cause as important as this and support it with all you can muster. If each of us turns the energy of despair into action, this old world will slowly begin to change in wonderful ways.

Stay curious, open and hopeful!

~ Dr. Lynda

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  1. “IAPF Akashinga – Female Anti-Poaching Rangers Reclaiming Ecosystems.” YouTube, International Anti-Poaching Foundation, 18 Dec. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmxEEmUcaUg. Accessed 15 Oct. 2018.
  2. “FrTEDx Talksom Sniper to Rhino Conservationist | Damien Mander | TEDxJacksonHole.” YouTube, TEDx Talks, 5 Nov. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXBjQ7bc6PY. Accessed 15 Oct. 2018.
  3. “Wildlife Poaching: 4 Reasons Why You Should Care About the Issue.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 16 July 2015, www.nbcnews.com/news/africa/wildlife-poaching-brings-unimaginable-consequences-n391976. Accessed 15 Oct. 2018.
  4. “Wildlife Poaching: 4 Reasons Why You Should Care About the Issue.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 16 July 2015, www.nbcnews.com/news/africa/wildlife-poaching-brings-unimaginable-consequences-n391976. Accessed 15 Oct. 2018.
  5. Velde, Bruno Vander. “Dead or Alive: The Value of an Elephant – Human Nature -…” Human Nature – Conservation International Blog, 18 Aug. 2015, blog.conservation.org/2015/08/dead-or-alive-the-value-of-an-elephant/?gclid=CjwKCAjw0oveBRAmEiwAzf6_rAG07VQ1XibUxTMPXThazqqGcPB43RRYOV1lRkFl6p58flPXycnL5RoC_uwQAvD_BwE. Accessed 15 Oct. 2018.
  6. “Zimbabwe’s Women’s Anti-Poaching Group Protecting Elephants – BBC News.” YouTube, BBC News, 8 May 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAmQLQwF_BE. Accessed 24 Oct. 2018.
Image: Dr. Lynda

Lynda Ulrich


Dr. Lynda is a dentist, artist, global traveler, and philanthropist who looks for potential and shares it with the world.

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