The Akashinga Rangers is a community-driven conservation model led and implemented by the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), empowering disadvantaged women to restore and manage large networks of wilderness areas as an alternative economic model to trophy hunting.

The Akashinga are a highly-trained, quasimilitary group of women that are charged with enforcing anti-poaching laws in their own communities, at times even arresting their own family members. IAPF has discovered that when women are at the center of community-led conservation, they can focus on their education and development. That leads to cascading benefits for the community, where conservation becomes an automatic community-led by-product.

Akashinga aims to recruit 1,000 women, protecting a network of 20 former hunting reserves by 2025. The vision of Akashinga is to replace trophy hunting as a management tool for conservation in Africa. This achieves landscape conservation at scale: A balance of ecology, economics, ethics and politics for the long-term preservation of large wilderness areas run by women. At the same time, the Akashinga model injects 62% of operational costs back into the community, 80% of which reaches the community at the household level. The Zimbabwe pilot project returns the same amount of money to the community every 34 days that trophy hunting did every year.

The program was started in Phundundu Wildlife Area and Wilderness, which borders Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park to the south. The Akashinga program builds an alternative approach to the militarized paradigm of ‘fortress conservation’, which defends colonial boundaries between nature and humans. While still trained to deal with any situation they may face, the team has a community-driven interpersonal focus, working with rather than against the local population for the long-term benefits of their own communities and nature.

Akashinga is a platform for women to change the world for the better. These women, many of whom are survivors of domestic abuse or sexual assault, are excelling at one of the most demanding and respected jobs in the world while simultaneously improving their own lives, their families, and their communities.

Some critics are questioning the effectiveness of sending women to intercept notoriously dangerous and violent poachers. Akashinga’s founder, former Australian army sniper Damien Mander, simply points out the undeniable results: since 2017, the Akashinga Rangers have made hundreds of arrests and helped to drive an 80% decrease in elephant poaching in the Lower Zambezi Valley.