By Vicki Colbert – Borgen Magazine
TACOMA, Washington — They call themselves The Akashinga, or “the brave ones.” They are a cohort of all-women, all-vegan and quasi-military trained rangers. The law-enforcement group has effectively helped reduce Zimbabwe’s elephant poaching by 80% since 2017. They do not only protect elephants, however. The women play a vital role in the effort to stop all wildlife poaching in Africa.
Who are The Akashinga?
The group is comprised of women who were formerly impoverished and are typically survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence. They deter poachers to protect their nation’s wildlife as well as their own futures. They view themselves as guardians of the land, protecting elephants, rhinos, lions and other endangered species from illegal trade. Although the women have semi-automatic weapons, which some deem controversial, the rangers have assisted in 72 arrests without firing a single shot.
The Akashinga are able to earn more than a living wage by Zimbabwean economic standards. The average home in Zimbabwe earns $62 (USD) per month. However, economic instability strikes women especially hard, making the earnings of the Akashinga all the more significant.
Wildlife ranging and preservation is an alternative career that is emerging amongst women throughout Africa. The profession is dangerous but provides sustainable lifestyles and income. Another hotspot for poaching is South Africa, where a similar all-women group of rangers, The Black Mambas, works diligently to protect and preserve wildlife.
Poaching in Zimbabwe and South Africa
Many journalists, scholars and locals agree that poverty in Zimbabwe greatly contributes to wildlife poaching and poaching in Africa as a whole. The Akashinga recognize that many poachers are experiencing extreme poverty and are simply trying to provide for their families. In a nation where the average monthly income is largely insufficient, poaching is a lucrative industry. The Pulitzer Center published a story that estimated a poacher can earn $5,000 for a kilo of rhino horn. That lump sum is more than 80 times that of the country’s average monthly income.
In South Africa, where wildlife poaching is also illegal but still persists, race relations and unequal land distribution play an integral part in the prevalence of illegal animal hunting. Although apartheid ended almost 30 years ago, racial inequality is still a big problem. As it happens, white South Africans own a majority of conservations and game reserves. These reserves are typically protected with the hope of monetary return from the tourism industry. This limits many black South Africans, who are typically poorer than their white counterparts, from accessing these tracts of land.
Additionally, many owners acquired these lands by displacing black South Africans from their ancestral land in the name of preserving wildlife. As a result, poachers send an indirect message: “Is the life value of a rhino worth more than investing in the black community?”
Educate, Eradicate and End Wildlife Poaching in Africa
According to The World Bank blog, poaching is not born out of poverty but instead born out of greed, corruption and neglect. There is a high demand for timber, wildlife, animal parts and plant materials found in Africa. The World Bank argues that reducing demand for these materials will also reduce the profitability of poaching.
The Akashinga also believe that fighting corruption leads to a reduction in hunting wild animals. While poaching comes with hefty sentences in Zimbabwe, they are hardly enforced so they are essentially nonexistent. Therefore, since legal punishment is typically not a viable option, the Akashinga use proactive measures. The women rely on locals as informants to get ahead of the next scheduled hunt.
Many anti-poaching groups agree that children’s education is the most sustainable, effective grassroots approach. By teaching children the multifaceted importance of protecting wildlife, African countries plagued by poaching can significantly decrease future poaching-related crimes. Therefore, the Akashinga, as well as The Black Mambas, visit children to educate them on the destructive tendencies of the poaching industry. For the Akashinga, educating the community on how important wildlife and nature is can be a great step toward saving more animals.