Things are getting exciting.
In our last update, we showed you the brave women in and around Songo who made it past the ranger interview process as part of IAPF’s Akashinga expansion across the Zambezi Valley.
After interviewing hundreds of applicants from the five surrounding communities we shortlisted 100 recruits to move to the next stage - the 72-hour selection phase of physical and mental endurance.
During this 72-hour selection process, the recruits are put through the four pillars of misery: to be hungry, tired, cold and wet. The purpose of this process is to uncover people with character and spirit. As rangers, they will need to be resilient and have a lot of grit. If they start with character and spirit, the rest can be learned. These two essential criteria will determine who will go on to train to become revered Akashinga rangers.
IAPF’s Akashinga conservation model is purpose-driven. When spirit and character meet purpose - nothing can stand in a person's way, and seeks out the toughest of the tough to be relentless guardians of nature. especially when there are supporters like you keeping us going.
These 72 hours bring us closer to finding nature's fiercest protectors and now we want to give you a sneak peek at what the women endured during their selection process.
To begin, the recruits arrived at our base and checked in. That night, they went to sleep without food.
0600 hours - the day begins with PT followed by a 3.2km timed run (about 2 miles).
By the end of Day 1, they will have run roughly 8km (just under 5 miles).
Above, are one group of recruits who just completed their first timed run. The fastest person came in in just under 14 minutes. That’s 4 minutes and 40 seconds per km (or 0.6 miles) – a good pace for anyone.
The next challenge is physical training while carrying a 50 kg (110 lbs) log. Only 4 people carrying each log make it even harder for the recruits to keep their balance. The Drill Sergeant and Operations Manager monitor the candidates and pick up on the slightest mistakes. Even an infraction as minor as turning the wrong way means the whole group must perform extra jumping-jacks, push-ups or planks.
Akashinga rangers must work together seamlessly as one, and this exercise is a practical example of why that’s so important. They all need to be able to rely on each other in the field while also being completely self-sufficient.
In our last round of Akashinga recruitment at our Phundundu location, Petronella Chigumbura, a current Akashinga ranger who ran the selection process, began the day with a message to the women who came out. She stressed to them that “you cannot move alone”. Their work as a ranger can only work if they are there for each other. If you haven’t seen our National Geographic short documentary (executive produced by James Cameron) about our last Akashinga selection process, be sure to watch it here:
Finally, there is a break for lunch and sharing time, where the recruits share their life story with each other. These stories are an important part of getting through the selection process because their journey and innate desire to support their communities and protect their wildlife is what keeps them pushing forward - no matter how much their limits are tested during selection and beyond.
After lunch, it’s time for more PT followed by a 4km run (2.5 miles), ending the day with sprint relays.
0200 hours - the recruits are woken for an hour of drills.
0600 hours - physical training commences followed by a run, drills and exercises all the way until lunch at midday.
Individual interviews are held after lunch until evening when all recruits are instructed they will be sleeping outside in the open air for the night.
0530 hours - a 5km run (3 miles) up a mountain at a steep incline. This is the final grueling test.
The end of the run marks the end of the selections. Everyone heads back to camp and the recruits return home to await the final decision on which 28 women will be selected.
The Akashinga selection process is deliberately very tough. We put these women through a lot to be selected, and then even more to be trained as an Akashinga ranger. We aren’t easy on them, but for a good reason: the stakes couldn’t be higher – both for the women individually, and also for the entire region, its ecosystem, its wildlife and the way of life of all of its inhabitants.
We look for those individuals that have the will and the fight to survive because that’s what our mission is about: survival.
Eventually, 28 women will be chosen to go onto further training and become a strong, cohesive and effective team of Akashinga rangers. They definitely have character and spirit. See for yourself here:
This land, its wildlife and its communities could suffer irreversible degradation to their natural heritage unless we are able to stem the tide of poaching and destruction. It’s because of our committed supporters that we have been able to do so much up until now. To be able to continue to expand our operations and do more for this land, the wildlife and communities, we need continued support. IAPF exists only with your support.
We are rethinking conservation
Indigenous communities will decide the future of African conservation and they do not want bigger fences and more guns. However, these communities need to be sufficiently motivated through benefits, development, and relationships.
If we want to protect and regenerate Africa’s wilderness - things need to change. And because of people like you who are committed to the cause, they are.
Together, we’re creating impact
The IAPF Akashinga model works.
Zimbabwe’s Mid-Lower Zambezi Valley, once a hotspot for elephant poaching, is now safer than it has been for a long time. This area is home to one of the largest remaining elephant populations in the world, and sadly 8,000 of those elephants were lost to poaching in the 16 years before Akashinga’s involvement.
In the first 2 years of Akashinga’s operations in this area, the Lower Zambezi in Zimbabwe saw an 80% drop in elephant poaching.
Since the start of our program there has been a 399% increase in wildlife sightings in the area where Akashinga operates. That progress was realised over just three years.
But this is not only about saving wildlife – it is about giving the surrounding communities a chance to survive, and a chance to thrive. Allowing women to shift from more traditional roles to occupations in law enforcement, management and decision-making have de-escalated local tension, brought the community together with conservation and reduced operational costs by 66%.
- 62% of Akashinga’s operational costs are going directly back into the community.
- 80% of that reaches the community at the household level.
This effectively makes the protection of biodiversity an investment in the community. As an example, many women in the Akashinga program have been enabled for the first time to buy land, build houses and go on to study at university.
Akashinga prepares women for worst case scenarios, but the collaborative relationships with the local communities are by far the best defence against wildlife crime. These are the benefits and impact that Akashinga is creating and with your help, they will be the successes we continue to replicate as we expand.
Your support is already working…
Your support is already working to protect wildlife and sustain communities. We are getting results. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve achieved together in 3 short months over the last quarter:
Only you can help us double our impact
From now until December 18th, every dollar that you give will be matched, dollar-for-dollar by a group of our wonderful major donors. So, for example, if you give $100 now, your gift to help us expand our Akashinga model instantly becomes $200.
The impact of your donation for any amount will be doubled – so long as the donation is received by December 18th.
We know that you believe in our mission as much as we do. That’s why there has never been a better time to show your support for wildlife, for the wilderness, and for the communities that need your support.