Nyaradzo Hoto and Jan Stander

Guest blogger for FCDO Editorial

Part of Illegal wildlife trade UK in Zimbabwe

24th July 2018 Harare, Zimbabwe

The rangers saving elephants in northern Zimbabwe

The Akashinga rangers

Being an anti-poaching ranger in Zimbabwe used to be a profession reserved for men. But that’s changing, thanks to the success of the Akashinga rangers, an all-female anti-poaching team operating in the northern Hurungwe area.

Founded in 2017 by two dedicated anti-poaching experts, the team has since stopped 46 poachers in their tracks. Elephants have been cruelly poisoned in their hundreds with cyanide in the last few years. These arrests are a real sign of hope that the poaching crisis in this area of Zimbabwe can finally be brought under control.

Support from the British Embassy

The Akashinga rangers with the landrover donated by the embassy

The British embassy in Zimbabwe has supported the work of the Akashinga rangers by refurbishing and donating a former embassy Landrover.

It’s also funded the construction of a dam in the area so that villagers have a water source at hand for their cattle which means herders do not have to go into the conservancy area. This also cuts down on poaching and snaring.

Nyaradzo Hoto is an Akashinga ranger. Jan Stander is one of the founders of the team. Here they blog about how the project has changed their lives – and the lives of those in the community around them:

Nyaradzo: I can stand on my own two feet

Before I became a ranger, it was difficult for me to survive. I was jobless. But now I can afford to send my child to school.  And my young brother. I can stand on my own two feet and I don’t have to depend on anyone.

I love my job and I love my animals. The tough times were during the training course. But these made me stronger and fitter than I was before.

Nyaradzo Hoto with her family

Best part is patrolling

[When we lost two rangers and a trainer in a drowning incident in March 2018] it was hard. But it is part of life. We have been left with our hearts wounded.

The best part of the job is patrolling, especially during the day. We assess what’s going on in the area.

Now I see such a bright future for myself, working with wildlife. And my community is benefiting. The upcoming generation is going to be inspired by what we are doing.

The Akashinga rangers during a patrol

Jan: If I’d known this years ago, it would have made a difference

I’ve spent just over four years in this community. When I first got here the wildlife was just about finished. There was a little bit of lion movement. But as for elephant and buffalo, there was very, very little. And that was 100 percent because of poaching.

The commercial ivory poaching has come in really in the last decade – and now it’s out of control. But bushmeat poaching: that also decimated wildlife life.

Sheer determination

I’ve been involved in anti-poaching for 15 years now. Damien [Mander, the founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation] came along with this idea of using the women.  So we put the word out.

We selected women who might traditionally have been seen as disadvantaged. Single mums, divorcees. The sheer determination of the women who take part in the selection courses is amazing. I’ve had women who just won’t quit. They’ve been set some impossible endurance task and they’re struggling. But they say to me: “Just give me half an hour, I’m not stopping.”

Huge respect from the community

First there was some animosity towards the women who’d been picked to be rangers. It was no longer the beer halls that were getting the most money in the community. But now the amount of respect is huge. The women are paying a huge amount back to the community: school fees, supporting traders.

Yes, sometimes the women are slightly slower.  A run might be an hour for a man. When you’re sending women, it may take an hour and a half, especially on the very difficult terrain we’ve got here in Hurungwe district. But as the team leader, you set your schedule around that. And that’s OK. What women do – and this is their advantage – is that they meet up at waterholes and they talk. That’s how they get intelligence. It’s vital. Women also spend up to three times more of their salary on family and local community. This means that what we’re investing in law enforcement actually becomes an investment in communities.

If I’d known this years ago, it would have made a big difference.

Have your say:

Had you heard of the Akashinga rangers? Do you think that this is a model that should be used more widely in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade?

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