On Sunday as part of World Animal Day, National Geographic will premiere Akashinga: The Brave Ones, a documentary short on the all-female anti-poaching unit in Zimbabwe that is facing down poachers, saving wildlife and reshaping the future of conservation.
The women-only team of rangers was founded by Damien Mander, former Australian special forces soldier and an Iraq war veteran.
Executive produced by James Cameron and directed by Maria Wilhelm, this premiered in April at the EarthXFilm Festival to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and was launched online for World Elephant Day in August.
The award-winning documentary short was an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival and the American Film Institute, and will be National Geographic’s featured selection at Wildscreen.
“The illegal trafficking of wildlife is one of the world’s largest criminal industries, linked to terrorism and, some evidence suggests, to the pandemic we are struggling to stop,” said Mander, founder and CEO of nonprofit, the International Anti-Poaching Foundation.
“Wildlife trafficking must be stopped at the source. This is the job of wildlife rangers like the Akashinga. They are the first and last line of defence not just for nature, but also for humanity.
“To my many friends in Australia and New Zealand, while we battle with an invisible and increasingly powerful viral enemy, the poaching wars rage on,” said executive producer James Cameron.
“The Akashinga are front-line warriors — fiercely committed to protecting Africa’s most vulnerable species and to securing a positive future for their communities. They fight to ensure nature and ultimately humanity wins.
“At a time when we need to be brave, the proud and courageous women of Akashinga have lessons to teach us all — about the unique power of sisterhood, the importance of collaboration and the essential nature of community,” said Maria Wilhelm, director of Akashinga: The Brave Ones. The question is whether we are willing to learn the lessons they have to teach.
“For more than 132 years, National Geographic has been a steward of this planet,” said Carolyn Bernstein, Executive Vice President of Global Scripted Content and Documentary Films at National Geographic.
“We are honoured to partner with our friend and National Geographic Explorer James Cameron to shine a light on the Akashinga, the brave women on the front lines of the poaching crisis, who are transforming their communities and changing the face of conservation.”
With many of Africa’s key species, including elephants, reaching levels near extinction, Akashinga is a radical, new and highly effective weapon against poaching.
Founded by Damien Mander, former Australian special forces soldier and Iraq war veteran, the women-only team of rangers, drawn from the abused and marginalised, is revolutionising the way animals are protected and communities are empowered — and its members’ own lives are being transformed.
Mander’s innovative approach to conservation calls for community buy-in rather than full on armed assault against poachers: if a community understands the economic benefits of preserving animals, then it will eliminate poaching without an armed struggle. This short film is a celebration of the courage, conservation and unorthodox thinking that is leading to massive positive change.
Akashinga is more crucial now than ever: As the global pandemic crisis, COVID-19 rages on and resources become increasingly scarce, wildlife have become especially vulnerable to poachers.
The doc short is produced by Kim Butts, Drew Pulley and Maria Wilhelm; it is executive produced by James Cameron and within record-breaking time hit 1.4 million views on YouTube.
About the Avatar Alliance Foundation
The Avatar Alliance Foundation (AAF) promotes science-based solutions that advance the availability of clean energy, ensure healthy oceans, protect biodiversity and create sustainable food systems. It recognises and respects the intelligent guardianship of natural resources by indigenous peoples and supports indigenous rights. The AAF enables advocacy media projects that address climate change and champion nature.
About Damien Mander
Damien is an Iraq war veteran who served as a Naval clearance diver and special operations sniper for the Australian Defence Force. In 2009 while travelling through Africa, he was inspired by the work of rangers and the plight of wildlife. Liquidating his life savings, the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) was established to be the last line of defence for nature. Over the past decade the IAPF has scaled to train and support rangers which now help protect over 20million acres of African wilderness. In 2017 Damien founded ‘Akashinga-Nature Protected by Women’, an IAPF program that has already grown to over 170 employees, becoming the only group of nature reserves in the world to be protected by women.
About the International Anti-Poaching Foundation
The IAPF was founded in 2009 and is a nonprofit organisation operating in southern and East Africa. The focus of the organisation is ecosystem preservation, achieved through the two key functions of training and operations. The operational model is Akashinga, a community-driven conservation program, empowering disadvantaged women to restore and manage networks of wilderness areas. Training is conducted under the LEAD Ranger initiative, a program of excellence, building field based indigenous leadership and instructional capacity across Africa’s conservation industry. Registered in four countries, Dr Jane Goodall is our Patron and we have supported or trained rangers that help protect over 20 million acres of wilderness across the continent. Right now, we are expanding our Akashinga footprint into new areas of wilderness that have seen the devastating effects of poaching. We are training 100 new Akashinga rangers to help protect their sovereign lands. Our goal is to train 1000 Akashinga rangers by 2025. All funds raised go directly to our on-the-ground projects to protect wildlife and their precious ecosystems.
Sunday October 4 at 8.30pm on National Geographic.