This will mean three territories under our management in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi Valley will receive a boost for wildlife protection.
The first unit of our 25 recruits graduated at Binga in June, with a further 46 who are set to complete their training at Hurungwe in early September. This is a huge milestone for us as it brings us closer to our five-year goal of deploying 1,000 Akashinga staff throughout the region by 2026.
The Hurungwe graduates will be deployed across Makwichi and Nyaodza Wildlife Areas, which have been left largely unpatrolled for many years. We will deploy additional rangers to the Phundundu Wildlife Area where Akashinga was birthed back in 2017. Since we have been operating in the area, the wildlife numbers there have increased, putting pressure on additional resources required to accomodate the growth.
Our new rangers at Binga on the shores of Lake Kariba, the largest human made lake in the world, have started protecting part of the 1,490 square miles (2,400sqkm) Songo Wildlife Area, which was previously patrolled by just four council scouts.
Their journey began last year when 120 women from five nearby Tonga Chiefdoms were interviewed. We selected a total of 32 women to begin training at Songo Wildlife Area in November, with 25 later graduating as fully-fledged rangers.
Many of the women who train to become rangers come from impoverished backgrounds with little to no education meaning their hopes of finding sustainable employment opportunities are often limited. Since our presence in these remote areas, our Akashinga program has given many of these women the refuge they seek, to become fearless and empowered while protecting wildlife.
Our Songo operations manager Angus Black says, “Through both their training and their own determination, these women have realised how capable they are, and in seven short months their personalities have transformed.
“Everything is unrecognisable to what we started off with. They are very proud of themselves, with not a shred of arrogance. We’ve now got an outstanding bunch of women that are fully fledged rangers, and ready to deploy,” Black says.
Similarly, nearly 250 miles (400km) east along the Zambezi Valley in Phundundu Wildlife Area similar scenes were being played out, with 46 of our local recruits going through the same arduous paces.
During the training across both locations only 11 of our recruits dropped out for various reasons. These numbers were low due to the intensive selection process they have to go through to become successful candidates for our program.
Our recruits at Phundundu Wildlife Area had the privilege of being the first units to go through our newly built training centre, helping to improve the quality of education throughout the region.
The course we designed begins with intense physical training and drills to initiate the women into a routine of discipline, before they receive medical training and lectures on topics such as code of conduct, ethics and law enforcement.
We later then put a heavy focus on practical work – this centres around a survival course, tracking, field craft, dangerous animals, communications, patrol techniques, and weapons training, with rangers who never previously held a weapon becoming extremely proficient.
For those who can’t speak English, we offer lessons to ensure they get up to speed, while our more advanced recruits tutor those who struggle in some areas. Our goal is to ensure no one is left behind and foster a culture of team work with our Rangers.
Given the crocodile infested waters of Lake Kariba, none of our Binga recruits have ever attempted to swim before. To help conquer their fears, we facilitate three weeks of swimming lessons in a swimming pool in the training camp, all our graduates proved more than capable upon completion.
Swimming is a necessary skill for our rangers as they patrol 25 miles (40km) of Lake Kariba frontage. Waterborne anti-poaching operations are a key focus of their work, so it is imperative for them to possess these skills and learn how to navigate the waters without fear.
While each unit of our recruits have their own standout graduates, at Binga, 22-year-old Phillis Mudenda was named the Recruit of the Intake on graduation day, as she excelled at all disciplines while also displaying great leadership.
Like most conservancies under our management, Songo Wildlife Area has a history of trophy hunting, and more recently poaching. Since the organisation took over a 20-year lease, it is slowly being rebuilt to allow wildlife and people to live together.
Since Songo has been under our protection, not a single elephant has been lost to poaching, and after a year these wary giants have started to show themselves during the day in the conservancy thanks to our fearless Rangers who work tirelessly to protect them from harm.
In addition to elephant, the wildlife area is now home to small herds of impala, waterbuck, as well as plenty of bushbuck and duiker.
To ensure the continued growth in wildlife animals is protected within the area, the same process of discovering new talent through new units of recruits will begin and training will commence at both Hurungwe and Binga operational areas.