Akashinga Training Kicks Off with Excitement in Songo


Akashinga Training Kicks Off with Excitement in Songo

Pictured above: Sergeant Bennet Matema, graduate of the Akashinga Instructor Wing in Phundundu, sings with the team of Songo recruits as they jog toward camp during one of their many drills.

December 7, 2020

Train until the training becomes second nature.‍

That’s the essence of our IAPF Akashinga training program.

The new Akashinga ranger training has begun in Songo, and each woman has embarked up a steep climb to a new life, renewed hope and a focused purpose to rehabilitate wildlife and the ecosystems they live within. This exciting new step of the expansion of our Akashinga program in Songo has been made possible because there are supporters like you, who are as passionate as these women are about wildlife conservation and paving the way for a positive future for humanity for generations to come.

If you're familiar with the IAPF Akashinga conservation program, you’ll know that each graduated ranger is a highly trained and disciplined professional. But few understand the full range and scope of this training. The program is a comprehensive and complex six-month program that hones every aspect of these trainees – bringing mind, body and spirit together to ensure they have the skills they need to succeed in each challenge and mission they face as a team.

It takes focused intelligence, initiative, determination, a strong body, a brave heart, and acute situational awareness to reach the peak performance levels needed to become an Akashinga ranger.

The trainees are currently in the midst of this robust training program - and we are grateful to have the financial support to be able to provide all the equipment and expert training they need to succeed for wildlife.

Take a glimpse at the new trainees being put through their paces at camp just recently:

The specific process that the Akashinga trainees will go through is extremely thorough and every aspect it covers is crucial to their success as wildlife protectors. The scope of this training program is vast.

Sergeant Julianna Murumbi
Sergeant Julianna Murumbi (right) explains the use of a tourniquet with the assistance of Sergeant Petronella Chigumbura (left).

Trainees experience an extensive curriculum in medical training, as the job of a ranger is a dangerous one. This includes first response training, lessons in CPR, and ways to treat fractures, shock, burns, bites, lacerations and the effects of toxins. These courses give rangers the skills and confidence to provide care when faced with a medical emergency in the field. They will come face-to-face with dangerous poachers as well as wild and unpredictable animals. This training could be lifesaving.

trainees practice tying the tourniquets

Pictured above, trainees practice tying the tourniquets properly.

Senzeni Munsaka is proudly showing off her properly assembled tourniquet

Here, trainee Senzeni Munsaka is proudly showing off her properly assembled tourniquet after Sergeant Julianna Murumbi and Sergeant Petronella Chigumbura’s demonstration.

The trainees will also learn how to deploy on patrols with the varied professional equipment they have - or with no equipment at all. This includes a focus on bushcraft, including conservation, ecology, vegetation, wildlife, survival skills, and navigation skills.

Sergeant Bennet Matema
Sergeant Bennet Matema, graduate of the Akashinga Instructor Wing in Phundundu, teaches about the vegetation in the area the women will patrol.

Ecology teachings range from educating trainees about how the indigenous vegetation gets distributed naturally by wildlife, to the types of terrain they are patrolling, and how vegetation grows and protects itself.

Additionally, trainees take an ethics course which includes learning about the hierarchical structure within communities, community collaboration, responsibilities and values as a ranger, and dealing appropriately with corruption.

Sergeant Bennet Matema

Sergeant Bennet Matema leads this course. Above, he is explaining the importance of IAPF’s core values, and the vital role they will play in everyday life as a ranger.

Trainees also learn the legal aspects of their role, including proper use of force, how to conduct arrests, secure witness statements, and learning about existing legislation and human rights.

Trainees listen intently
Trainees listen intently and write notes as they absorb everything they are taught.

Trainees learn how to use the information they gather from the people living in and around the area to help them protect their lands and wildlife. This includes learning about operational security and crime scene investigation.

Sergeant Julianna Murumbi
Sergeant Julianna Murumbi leads the class and talks about the importance of operational security and how to practice it.

Communications in any role is important, but in the field for a ranger it is critical. Each ranger must be proficient operating radios and satellite phones, with the phonetic alphabet and report protocols. At all times, skills of productive interaction must be employed. This is a persistent focus in their training curriculum.

To build strength, to build muscle-memory response as second nature, to build single-minded focus, the Akashinga ranger-in-training will continually drill, drill, drill.

Sergeant Julianna Murumbi
Sergeant Julianna Murumbi doing shuttle run drills with the new Akashinga trainees.

To survive and thrive whilst out on patrol, fieldcraft must be mastered. This includes not only mission planning, camouflage and concealment, hand signals, and tactical skills including night ops but also being a formidable and disciplined law enforcement officer who knows the rules of engagement, teamwork, search and arrest, and unarmed combat.

All of the above is in addition to the daily physical training program which includes runs, press-ups, sit-ups, fireman’s carry, and so on.

This is what the Akashinga ranger-in-training does for six months. These six months are imperative to their success as rangers.

But being an Akashinga ranger is not just about learning to defend, protect and survive. A critical aspect to operational success comes with the ability to liaise with surrounding communities.

How working with communities helps protect wildlife and their ecosystems

IAPF’s overall mission is to protect wildlife, ecoregions and ecosystems and through the Akashinga program we do this most effectively by supporting and working with the indigenous peoples who live in the areas we help to protect.

Almost all of the people in the areas we support need help in varying ways, from employment, stocking medical clinics, road works, rubbish cleaning, building schools and so on. Assisting with these aspects is very much part of our community development efforts in Songo. As we pursue our mission, we work closely with village chiefs and elders and are always cognizant of respecting the communal structures operating within each community.

This community liaison role is part of the critical training our Akashinga rangers receive that also makes them effective Community Liaison Officers (CLOs). It is vital that our rangers and CLOs live full-time in the communities next to and within the lands they protect so that they can build meaningful relationships with the people there. This also allows the CLOs to get firsthand insights into attitudes towards conservation and potential problems.

By working in collaboration with communities, we are able to make informed decisions that will protect both wildlife and these communities.
Akashinga CLOs in Phundundu
Akashinga CLOs in Phundundu talking to kids in the local school about community conservation issues. Photo by Brent Stirton.

Another crucial function a CLO learns about is when wild animals get caught in snares along the boundary of the protected areas (which can also be around the local communities). It’s an extremely painful and deadly situation for the wildlife, so they can be dangerous at these times, particularly if it's a buffalo, a lion or a leopard. The CLO training teaches them how to approach those animals and to call in help as soon as possible from skilled animal handlers or veterinarians whilst trying to keep the community calm and safe. This can be both a demanding and delicate task.

Human/wildlife conflict can be very stressful on everyone, so a CLO will endeavour to de-escalate any tension that there may be, for the safety of both the people and wildlife involved.

female lion that was disturbing one of the local communities
Here is a female lion that was disturbing one of the local communities. She is doing very well now. Because of the way our CLOs operated quickly and with certainty, we were able to sedate her under the supervision of a veterinarian, and she was then transported to a safer area under the National Park’s supervision.

Another reason why the CLO function plays a key role is that the people in the local communities are often our best source of information regarding illegal wildlife poaching.

Trainees are educated both as rangers and CLOs so their roles and rosters can be varied from week to week. A CLO's job is to be based in the community and to spend their time there. They get up each morning, deploying in pairs they move through the community, speaking with traditional leaders, business owners, and the general public about anything to do with wildlife crime, strange activities in the area, other illegal activities, human/wildlife conflict (wild animals that may be either inside or outside the park).

Our new trainees in Songo will complete both aspects of training as a CLO and Ranger across the entire six-month Akashinga training program.

Part of our Akashinga conservation model includes providing local employment, and CLOs working within the communities is just one of the many valuable and visible ways we provide this to them.

Our entire operation in Songo moves forward on the physical, psychological and intellectual strength of the people in these areas and the IAPF Akashinga rangers. But all of it relies on you. We would not be able to save the wildlife, or save the environment, or help the people of the area were it not for your help.

From all of us at IAPF, we thank you for all of your support along the way.

Only you can help us double our impact.

As we expand Akashinga across the Zambezi Valley, we need your help to raise $1 million to fund the expansion of our Akashinga Footprint in the Songo Conservancy and the Lake Kariba Frontage. We are so close to reaching this goal.

From now until December 18th, every dollar that you give will be matched, dollar-for-dollar by a group of our wonderful major donors. Every dollar you give will be automatically doubled until 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 women and communities that need your support.