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Fearless female rangers – The best ‘wildlife managers’ in Zimbabwe

By: John Cassim

Males are dominant by nature in our patriarchal society as humans. The same goes with the wildlife except a few such as hyenas whose females are much stronger than their counterparts.

To assert their dominance, wild animals behave differently with animals such as wolves who use eye contact and body language while birds have these amazing displays they exhibit to blush their females. Aquatic animals have their own language too as they show dominance but in Zimbabwe, the traditional dominance in the wildlife sector by male rangers is slowly disappearing.

Female rangers and conservationists have in the past decade proved to be better wildlife managers compared to their counterparts.

For years Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) operated under the guidance of male managers until the early 1990s when Olivia Mufute joined the organization. She broke the country’s record when she was appointed Chief Ecologists, becoming the first black female to hold such a high profiled post in the country.

Olivia rose through the ranks to become one of the most respected wildlife managers in the country and beyond and now is Zimbabwe country Director of Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF).

During one of my interviews with Olivia a few months ago, she revealed that she loved nature from a very early stage when she and her siblings would accompany their father for fishing at a local White-waters dam in Gweru.

“I grew up with the love of wildlife and never dreamt of working as an Ecologists until when I became one that’s when I realized how privileged we are as a country to be endowed with such natural resources,” she said.

Olivia studied in Ukraine majoring in Wildlife and Natural Resources Management before joining the ZimParks, where she worked for over 20 years.

Her stint at the ZimParks changed the narratives of women wildlife managers in the country, as she excelled and made sure she groomed young females into the wildlife sector.

“ZimParks was such a male-dominated field when I joined, to extent that while women were equally good, there was a perception that we were dealing with wildlife, a very dangerous field, and very few women made it to the top,” she narrated.

Olivia faced serious challenges regarding perceptions that females were not likely better candidates for the position of Chief Ecologist. While not so apparent, there was discrimination against women during the time.

In 2018, Olivia who is a wildlife conservationist, manager, mother, and wife started some community conservation projects in Mbire, with funding support from the European Union in 2018, there were no women among the 75 community scouts working across the 17 wards of the district.

Mbire is situated in the Mid-Zambezi Valley bordering Mozambique and Zambia, where there is an increased interface between people and wildlife raising various risks for communities, wildlife populations, and entire ecosystems.

“When we ventured into the communities we noted with concern that there was lack of motivation for women to work as wildlife scouts so we had to build the capacity for them with the help of the European Union,” Olivia said.

Meanwhile a year before that, in Hurungwe in the Lower-Zambezi, an all-female rangers organization called Akashinga (The Brave Ones) was founded by Damien Mander, a former Australian army sniper.

The female rangers were so successful that echoes of their bravery, dedication, and diligence were heard worldwide within a short period of time.

The Akashinga, anti-poachers group of radical females patrol five former trophy hunting reserves for illegal activity. The highly-trained troop is an arm of the nonprofit International Anti-Poaching Foundation. The celebrated team of rangers views themselves as guardians of the land protecting elephants, rhinos, and lions from poachers.

During an interview with Rose Minitaglio of www.elle.com, Damien was quoted as saying;

“The group’s success is in its receipts. Since 2017, Akashinga rangers have made hundreds of arrests and helped drive an 80 percent downturn in elephant poaching in Zimbabwe’s Lower Zambezi Valley.”

He is also quoted in the National Geographic saying, “The females were less susceptible to bribery from poachers and more adept at de-escalating potentially violent situations.

The rangers demonstrate a key conservation principle: Wildlife is worth more to the community alive than it is dead at the hands of poachers.”

Meanwhile, a documentary titled “Akashinga THE BRAVE ONES” and directed by Maria Wilhelm of the award-winning climate change series “Years of Living Dangerously” was launched in April this year.

John Cassim is a Zimbabwean multimedia investigative journalist, new media trainer, media consultant, photographer, however, all thoughts expressed here are his own.

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