On The Front Line:
Akashinga, Zimbabwe

Akashinga translates to “The Brave Ones” in the local language, an apt name for the often dangerous work these fully armed female rangers do. Coming face to face with poachers and wild beasts, heading up raids and sting operations, these women from Zimbabwe are highly trained and highly motivated to make a difference to the future survival of endangered African wildlife species. Our founder, Holly Budge, earned a rare privilege of accompanying Akashinga whilst they patrolled the front lines. From the summit of Everest to the front line of conservation in the African bush, Holly is no stranger to adventure but this was a whole different beast.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

On The Front Line:
Akashinga, Zimbabwe

Akashinga translates to “The Brave Ones” in the local language, an apt name for the often dangerous work these fully armed female rangers do. Coming face to face with poachers and wild beasts, heading up raids and sting operations, these women from Zimbabwe are highly trained and highly motivated to make a difference to the future survival of endangered African wildlife species. Our founder, Holly Budge, earned a rare privilege of accompanying Akashinga whilst they patrolled the front lines. From the summit of Everest to the front line of conservation in the African bush, Holly is no stranger to adventure but this was a whole different beast.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton

“These women are fighting a war on poaching”

“It’s 5.45am, it’s still dark as I stand in line with four armed Akashinga rangers, ready to go out on foot patrol. “You may not see any wildlife Holly, this is not a safari trip” says my go-to ranger. I pinched myself as the realisation of where I was became very real. These women are fighting a war on poaching and the poachers are not the only threat out there. The rangers load their rifles. The front ranger clicked her fingers as a signal to go. I took a deep breath as we moved into the darkness.”

Photo credit: International Anti Poaching Foundation

Photo credit: International Anti Poaching Foundation

“These women are fighting a war on poaching”

“It’s 5.45am, it’s still dark as I stand in line with four armed Akashinga rangers, ready to go out on foot patrol. “You may not see any wildlife Holly, this is not a safari trip” says my go-to ranger. I pinched myself as the realisation of where I was became very real. These women are fighting a war on poaching and the poachers are not the only threat out there. The rangers load their rifles. The front ranger clicked her fingers as a signal to go. I took a deep breath as we moved into the darkness.”

“Literally my lifeline”

“As we move further into the interior, the realisation that these women are literally my lifeline dawned on me. Without them, I’m a dead woman! This is a war zone and we are patrolling on the front lines. Challenges present themselves at every corner; Wild and dangerous beasts roaming, snare wire coiled round trees like spider’s webs’ awaiting their prey, the thorny undergrowth, the stifling heat, the desperate lack of water and signs of poachers’ presence make this a very hostile environment to be in, especially for a newcomer. “Welcome to the bush Holly” whispers one of the rangers.”

Photo credit: Brent Stirton/ IAPF

Photo credit: Brent Stirton/ IAPF

“Literally my lifeline”

“As we move further into the interior, the realisation that these women are literally my lifeline dawned on me. Without them, I’m a dead woman! This is a war zone and we are patrolling on the front lines. Challenges present themselves at every corner; Wild and dangerous beasts roaming, snare wire coiled round trees like spider’s webs’ awaiting their prey, the thorny undergrowth, the stifling heat, the desperate lack of water and signs of poachers’ presence make this a very hostile environment to be in, especially for a newcomer. “Welcome to the bush Holly” whispers one of the rangers.”

“Back up slowly”

“We covered the ground purposefully, with thorny branches trying to take my eye out. It was impressive how these women gracefully move through the thick undergrowth, whilst simultaneously spotting wildlife and looking out for signs of poachers. We stopped abruptly, I sensed a change in their energy. My mind started racing. What have they spotted? To my delight, an elephant cow with her calf was heavily camouflaged in the trees about 50 metres away. One ranger whispered, “a cow with her calf can be very aggressive. We must move back slowly”. I loved the excitement on the rangers’ faces, their passion shone through.”

“Back up slowly”

“We covered the ground purposefully, with thorny branches trying to take my eye out. It was impressive how these women gracefully move through the thick undergrowth, whilst simultaneously spotting wildlife and looking out for signs of poachers. We stopped abruptly, I sensed a change in their energy. My mind started racing. What have they spotted? To my delight, an elephant cow with her calf was heavily camouflaged in the trees about 50 metres away. One ranger whispered, “a cow with her calf can be very aggressive. We must move back slowly”. I loved the excitement on the rangers’ faces, their passion shone through.”

“We patrolled the surrounding area to identify any imminent threats”

“We got dropped off with supplies and equipment in a remote area of the bush. After we set up camp, we patrolled the surrounding area to identify any imminent threats. One armed ranger stayed at the camp to guard and protect whilst we walked for two hours on a big loop around the camp. We spotted a herd of elephants relatively close by and could hear hyenas too. When we returned, it was dusk and we ate stew with Sadza and stoked out the fire so our location could not be identified by the poachers. The plan was to sleep for a couple of hours before night patrol.”

“We patrolled the surrounding area to identify any imminent threats”

“We got dropped off with supplies and equipment in a remote area of the bush. After we set up camp, we patrolled the surrounding area to identify any imminent threats. One armed ranger stayed at the camp to guard and protect whilst we walked for two hours on a big loop around the camp. We spotted a herd of elephants relatively close by and could hear hyenas too. When we returned, it was dusk and we ate stew with Sadza and stoked out the fire so our location could not be identified by the poachers. The plan was to sleep for a couple of hours before night patrol.”

“The intense energy of the bush made me feel more alive than ever”

“Wake up Holly, we are going out on patrol”. I quickly pulled on my boots. As we left camp, we resumed our positions in line and moved slowly into the darkness. We stopped and sat on the ground, waiting and looking for poachers’ torch lights. After a few minutes, one of the rangers whispered, “we are going to retreat because that noise is one of the most dangerous snakes in the bush and it is not far away”. I gulped. We made our way back to the camp. I opened the tent zip enough to see the beautiful starry night sky. The strange noises coupled with the intense energy of the bush made me feel more alive than ever.”

Photo credit: Brent Stirton/ IAPF

Photo credit: Brent Stirton/ IAPF

“The intense energy of the bush made me feel more alive than ever”

“Wake up Holly, we are going out on patrol”. I quickly pulled on my boots. As we left camp, we resumed our positions in line and moved slowly into the darkness. We stopped and sat on the ground, waiting and looking for poachers’ torch lights. After a few minutes, one of the rangers whispered, “we are going to retreat because that noise is one of the most dangerous snakes in the bush and it is not far away”. I gulped. We made our way back to the camp. I opened the tent zip enough to see the beautiful starry night sky. The strange noises coupled with the intense energy of the bush made me feel more alive than ever.”

“I awoke feeling relieved to have survived the night!”

“At 6am, I awoke feeling relieved to have survived the night! I was instructed to wear an Akashinga uniform in an attempt to blend in better in the bush. During our six-hour patrol I helped dismantle snares wrapped around shady trees, just waiting for their victims to take shade from the beating sun. It was heartbreaking to try and comprehend how many snares were out there and how quickly they are replaced, once found and removed. It is an ongoing battle. we recorded the location of several elephant herds and other wildlife. The heat was sweltering.

“I awoke feeling relieved to have survived the night!”

“At 6am, I awoke feeling relieved to have survived the night! I was instructed to wear an Akashinga uniform in an attempt to blend in better in the bush. During our six-hour patrol I helped dismantle snares wrapped around shady trees, just waiting for their victims to take shade from the beating sun. It was heartbreaking to try and comprehend how many snares were out there and how quickly they are replaced, once found and removed. It is an ongoing battle. we recorded the location of several elephant herds and other wildlife. The heat was sweltering.

“The face of conservation going forwards is female”

“I spent several days immersed with the Akashinga Rangers, accompanying them on their daily patrols and other duties. Make no mistake though, this is not a 9-5 job and no day is the same. They are changing the face of conservation and the status quo of women staying at home bringing up the children. They are the breadwinners and positive role models in their families, their communities and beyond. Founder, Damien Mander, says “by moving men into construction and labour, and putting women into the power roles of law enforcement, management, decision making, we’ve completely deescalated the majority of local tension and brought conservation and communities together”. He believes the face of conservation going forwards is female.”

Photo credit: Brent Stirton/ IAPF

Photo credit: Brent Stirton/ IAPF

“The face of conservation going forwards is female”

“I spent several days immersed with the Akashinga Rangers, accompanying them on their daily patrols and other duties. Make no mistake though, this is not a 9-5 job and no day is the same. They are changing the face of conservation and the status quo of women staying at home bringing up the children. They are the breadwinners and positive role models in their families, their communities and beyond. Founder, Damien Mander, says “by moving men into construction and labour, and putting women into the power roles of law enforcement, management, decision making, we’ve completely deescalated the majority of local tension and brought conservation and communities together”. He believes the face of conservation going forwards is female.”

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Photo credit: ‘Akashinga‘ by Brent Stirton

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