International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) director Damien Mander says at least a third of the uniquely all-female ranger teams conduct continuation training each day, alongside their operations.
“The whole point of continuation training is to ensure that the ranger’s skills are kept up to date and they are always at the top of their game, and at no point should they be allowed to experience what we call ‘skill fade’,” Damien says.
This training takes place at Phundundu wildlife area, in northern Zimbabwe, where a new state of the art training centre is nearing completion, and is already being used for the classroom component of the ranger’s training.
To become a ranger, the women first undergo a rigid selection process, the successful recruits then complete a six-month training program, but the learning doesn’t end there, it carries on as continuation training.
“We are continually developing their individual skill sets …. their skill levels are evaluated and the training is tailored according to that,” Damien says.
The rangers’ abilities are assessed, areas for improvement identified and focused on, and they are increasingly introduced to better ways of doing things, for example, new technologies, techniques or advances in medical training, he says.
The training covers tactical skills, legal knowledge, health and safety, wildlife skills and knowledge and law enforcement skills, as well as drills to practice their command response, he says.
Push ups and sit ups are part of the rangers' fitness training - check them out:
“We also focus quite heavily on the fitness angle – the initial Covid shutdown provided challenges in getting everyone together for regular training but we are now legally able to carry this out with the required protocols, such as physical distancing, in place,” he says.
The training is held on Mondays to Fridays, with Tuesdays and Thursdays spent outdoors where they undergo practical field-based training, where skills such as tracking are the focus, while the other three days are spent in the classroom.
The new training centre, which is designed to deliver training to up to 80 students at one time and cater for 20 support staff, is expected be fully operational within by the end of March.
This facility was built as part of the major expansion drive of Akashinga which aims to deploy 1000 Akashinga rangers across 20 wilderness areas in the region by 2026, compared tothe 240 staff and trainees working now across the eight reserves in the Zambezi Valley under IAPF protection. Considering Akashinga was started under a tree with a blackboard, this is a big step forward.
“You can train 20 rangers under a tree or in a tent but for larger numbers it needs to be organized, we need sick bay facilities, proper feeding facilities, proper transport, a lot more needs to be in place to deliver training to that volume of personnel safely.”
In addition to the rangers’ continuation training, the 14 Akashinga instructors are also undergoing further training. In Songo wildlife area, the group of 25 recruits are being trained to become rangers, while another batch of 40 recruits are set to begin training at Phundundu this week.
The new intakes of recruits at Phundundu and Songo are part of a plan for 110 additional rangers to be trained and deployed into the eight reserves this year, with a further 160 rangers to be trained in 2022.
As well as disrupting training and delaying projects, the Covid pandemic has affected donations which the IAPF relies upon to carry out its valuable work in protecting flora and fauna and uplifting communities in southern Africa.
IAPF’s plea to donors and those considering donating is to dig deep if you can, as the funds are much needed to save Africa’s wildlife and wilderness areas to ensure that future generations will also be able to enjoy the beauty and benefits of the natural world.
“Obviously, training is a massive part of that, without training operations being able to keep up operational demands, we will stagnate,” he says.