Meet Zimbabwe’s First All-Female, Combat-Trained Anti-Poaching Unit

Published by Katherine Sullivan.

Stories of female empowerment have all but taken over the news. Just last month, women and men showed up to the Golden Globes red carpet wearing all-black clothing “in a show of solidarity for the mission of anti-sexual harassment group Time’s Up.” The #MeToo movement has given women around the world an outlet to share their stories as well as hope for the future. But there’s one story that you may have missed: Zimbabwe’s wildlife is being protected by a unit of highly trained, anti-poaching sharpshooters—and they’re all women.

They come from abusive and disadvantaged backgrounds. Many, like Petronella above, are mothers. Members of the squad use their paychecks to support their families, attend school, and maintain their homes.

The training program is called “Akashinga,” which means “the brave ones.” And, goodness, are these women brave.

The program was founded by Damien Mander, a military-trained sniper from Australia who runs the International Anti-Poaching Foundation. He previously believed that women had no place in the military but has since “[realized] that women were the missing link to successful conservation and anti-poaching initiatives,” according to The Guardian.

If you’re thinking that the Akashinga couldn’t get any cooler, think again. Protecting Zimbabwe’s wildlife from poachers isn’t the only way that this group helps to save animals. Mander and his elite force of sharpshooters are vegan, too. In fact, Mander—whose vegan-themed TEDx Talk, below, has been seen by millions—has been vegan for years.

“The Akashinga have embraced it [being vegan] with gusto,” reports The Guardian. One ranger, Vimbai Kumire, said that being vegan is “great,” adding that she doesn’t miss eating meat at all. Victor Muposhi, a local conservation biologist and longtime vegan, believes that showing communities that they don’t need meat to survive—and therefore don’t need to farm animals for food—could help reduce habitat loss in Zimbabwe and stop poaching, too.

The Akashinga program employs and empowers local women, helps preserve wildlife, and benefits the community as a whole. The Guardian reports that, according to Mander, “this pilot project is already putting more money per month into the local community than trophy hunting did per year.”

Don’t Just Admire ‘the Brave Ones’—Join Them

These women are fierce. They’re the activists that animals need and the ideal role models for humans everywhere. And while you may not be able to defend Africa’s wildlife alongside them, there is something that you can do to be more like these brave warriors: Go vegan. If you want to help save animals, refusing to eat them is a great start. Click the button below to join Mander, the Akashinga, and millions of others in the quest to end cruelty to animals:

Click here to see more photos of the Akashinga, photographed by Adrian Steirn for Alliance Earth.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind