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Zimbabwe's Brave Ones: The world's first all-female anti-poaching unit

Zimbabwe is one of the African countries worst affected by poaching. In an unprecedented move, an all-female unit has been created in the north of the country to track down poachers. The rangers are known as the Brave Ones. FRANCE 24's reporters went to meet these women who risk their lives to protect their country's wildlife.

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In the Zambezi Valley in northern Zimbabwe, the local biodiversity is endangered by poaching. The main victims of this illegal trade are elephants and rhinos, whose ivory and horns are sold for a small fortune on Asian markets.

But for the past year, a group of around 30 rangers have developed a new way to fight poaching. This unit is made up exclusively of women – a considerable achievement, since being a ranger was previously a job only held by men. The Akashinga("the Brave Ones"), are led by Damien Mander, a former Australian army sniper who has become a champion of the animal cause. The women have followed the same military training as any other ranger.

Every day, they work with local communities, which makes them more effective at tracking down hunters. And in barely a year, the Brave Ones have already arrested no less than 70 poachers – much more than the other, male groups.

A new life

Our reporters went to meet Zimbabwe's Brave Ones: women from poor backgrounds, who come from the surrounding villages affected by poaching. They are single mothers, widows, orphans... Some are wives of imprisoned poachers, victims of domestic violence, former prostitutes or victims of sexual violence. Without this project, these women would have no source of income.

Now, thanks to the salary paid to them by the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), the NGO that finances the project, they can feed their families and provide an education for their children. Above all, their salary is directly reinvested in the local economy. In five months of existence, the Akashinga had already brought in more income to residents than poaching had in a whole year.

Some of these women have seen their lives change dramatically. While we filmed this report, Nyaradzo Auxilia, an Akashinga member and 26-year-old single mother, told us that she dreamed of one day going to university to study the environment and animal welfare. Since then, we learned that she managed to get a place at Zimbabwe's Chinhoyi University in January 2019. Without the job in the anti-poaching brigade, she would never have been able to finance her studies and lead the life she wants.

This report was awarded the Rotary – FRANCE 24 special prize in 2018.

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