There are not many more majestic views than a herd of elephants roaming the plains of Africa. Unfortunately, each year 20,000 of these beautiful animals are killed for ivory.
Damien Mander is an Australian sniper, former Special Forces commando, clearance diver, founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation [IAPF]. He has been fighting for a decade for the protection of endangered animals of Africa.
In early 2017 the IAPF was asked to assist with conservation efforts in Zimbabwe’s Lower Zambezi ecosystem. Due to poaching, elephant numbers in the region had declined by 40% since 2001. Inspired by Black Mambas – the world’s first fully female (unarmed) anti-poaching team in South Africa – Mander decided to create his own project and train the women by himself. Critics said it couldn’t work, but of course, they were wrong.
Akashinga or The Brave Ones is a team of women, who experienced poverty and domestic abuse. The project builds their self-confidence, offers jobs, and helps local communities to benefit directly from wildlife conservation.
The whole team follows a vegan diet. A nutritious diet is essential for the work being done, because Akashinga training is modelled on strenuous special-forces training. Mander became vegan when he felt the “hypocrisy” of “protecting one group of animals and coming home and eating another.”
Mander, who has trained thousands of men, explained: “I did selection for 189 men… at the end of the first day, three were left.” When it came to the female recruits, he said: “We pushed them hard, much harder than any training we do with men”, yet out of 36, only three dropped out. “We put them through hell, and they just kept smiling and coming back harder and harder.” “I couldn’t believe it.” – he added.
According to an IAPF spokesperson: “The women who have graduated into the program received identical law enforcement training and fulfill the same role as a male ranger. “They learned skills such as leadership, unarmed combat, patrolling, camouflage and concealment, first aid, dangerous wildlife, democratic policing, search and arrest, human rights, crime scene preservation, crisis management, firearm safety and use, information gathering and conservation ethics.”
When I wear this suit
no one can see me,
and I can hide from the poacher.
– says Petronella Chigumbura, the star sniper of the squad.
Only last year, women arrested 80 armed criminals. Some argue that Akashinga is the best team responsible for conservation, based on female empowerment, veganism, and benefits to local populations. By restoring nature and protecting wildlife, Akashinga can put an end to poaching, which Africa desperately needs. The program is entirely funded by private donors. You can support them through donorbox.org/iapf_global
Damien spends the majority of his year in Zimbabwe. The rest is spent travelling where he lectures about conservation, environmentalism, veganism, and animal ethics. You can listen to his extremely inspirational TEDx Talk here: Modern Warrior: Damien Mander at TEDxSydney