Akashinga: The Brave Ones

There’s enough story in Akashinga: The Brave Ones for a feature documentary.

Instead it is a 13 minute short that leaves you in awe of what you are witnessing.

In the Lower Zambezi Valley, Zimbabwe, 500 young women are attending a punishing boot camp where 82 will graduate in an all-female anti-poaching unit. Elephant poaching is life and death stuff, not just for the magnificent animals, but for the humans involved on both sides of the law.

Damien Mander is an Iraq war veteran and a former special operations sniper for the Australian Defence Force. It’s an Aussie who is training these women, in a program within the International Anti-Poaching Foundation.

Filmmaker Maria Wilhelm has captured raw scenes of local women who arrive in a dusty training camp, ready for push-ups, endurance running, combat, shooting and mental tests. This is empowering stuff, like something out of Black Panther.

“Every young girl out there wants to be a ranger,” says Sgt. Petronella Shigumbura.

“Now I’m a leader and I’m going to teach these other ladies to be like me.”

The women come from all walks of Zimbabwe life… one previously married to a poacher, another a victim of domestic abuse, and another who was a second wife to a man already married but shunned by family when she was pregnant.

The doco short, produced by James Cameron, is driven by action shots of women with grunt, training in the arid Zimbabwe wilderness, overseen by Sgt. Shigumbura. The majesty of an elephant is only fleeting, as we hear, “I love my elephants like my children.”

Indeed Damien Mander reminds us what drives the success of the Akashinga program: “The most powerful force in nature… a woman’s instinct to protect.”

In truth, I would have liked this doco to have been longer and profile more stories, but it remains hugely inspiring.

The Akashinga program hopes to train 1000 rangers by 2025. National Geographic will screen the short as part of World Animal Day this Sunday, but it is already available on YouTube in order to spread its important message and help raise funds.

8:30pm Sunday October 4 on National Geographic.
International Anti-Poaching Foundation.

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