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Armed And On The Frontlines: Inside Zimbabwe’s All-Female Anti-Poaching Army

HARARE (The Southern African Times) – In Zimbabwe, where an estimated 85,000 elephants live, the fight to save vulnerable species isn’t just a full-time job—it’s a lifeline. 

Among the country’s most dedicated anti-poachers are the Akashinga, a radical all-female unit patrolling five former trophy hunting reserves for illegal activity. The highly-trained, quasi-military troop is an arm of the nonprofit International Anti-Poaching Foundation. The Akashinga, which means “brave ones” in local dialect, view themselves as guardians of the land—protecting elephants, rhinos, and lions from cyanide and snare traps. Many of its members are survivors of domestic abuse or sexual assault.

While some critics question the effectiveness of sending armed women into reserves to fend off notoriously dangerous and violent poachers, Akashinga’s founder Damien Mander, a former Australian army sniper, says the group’s success is in its receipts. Since 2017, Akashinga rangers have made hundreds of arrests and helped drive an 80 percent downturn in elephant poaching in Zimbabwe’s Lower Zambezi Valley. 

Akashinga: The Brave Onesa new National Geographic short documentary released on World Elephant Dayfrom James Cameron and directed by Maria Wilhelm (now available to stream on YouTube), explores how Mander’s army puts their lives on the line every day to protect the animals they love. 

The film is directed by Maria Wilhelm and produced by Wilhelm, Kim Butts, Drew Pulley. The women-only team has been trained by former Australian special forces soldier Damien Mander. The film shows the group’s impact on wildlife preservation, their communities, and their work. Wilhelm also produced Game Changers.

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