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Female anti-poaching team defies gender imbalance in wildlife conservation: 'Now I'm not afraid of anything'

"We saw that law enforcement in conservation was dominated by men."

"We saw that law enforcement in conservation was dominated by men."

Photo Credit: iStock

A group in Zambia is sending women to do what has typically been a man's job — and the women and the wildlife in the area are benefiting from it. 

As detailed by the Guardian, propelled by the drastic gender imbalance in wildlife conservation in the country, Conservation Lower Zambezi (CLZ) formed Kufadza in 2021. Kufadza means "inspire," and it is the country's first all-female conservation team. 

"We saw that law enforcement in conservation was dominated by men. There were very few women, even though women are interacting [more] with wildlife every day just getting water from the river," Peter Longwe, a monitoring and evaluation officer for CLZ, told the outlet. "We want them to be used as ambassadors in their communities."

The CLZ — an NGO founded by safari lodge owners in 1994 to address rampant poaching in the area — helps the Department of National Parks and Wildlife stop poaching and other illegal activities in the Lower Zambezi National Park in southeastern Zambia. It also works with communities to manage human-wildlife conflict in areas surrounding the park. 

When Kufadza was founded, 500 women applied, excited by the opportunity to help and eventually join the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, where they would have the security of a government salary and pension. Those who were approved to proceed were put through rigorous fitness tests, according to the Guardian. 

Of the 500 who applied, Stella Siansuna made the cut and soon found herself advancing on poachers in the bush at night. 

"We were very scared but by then I was team leader and had to make a decision," she said. "I decided to advance on the camp and the poachers ran away. That's when I became strong and now I'm not afraid of anything." 

On a continent where many things threaten wildlife, from the construction of new roads through wildlife reserves to severe drought, taking a stand against poachers is an impressive feat.

The brave women of Kufadza have proved, at times, to have better success against poachers and miners than men. "They are more likely to listen to you," Siansuna told the Guardian. 

All parks in Zambia, including the Lower Zambezi, are unfenced. This allows animals to roam freely, often into local villages where they can wreak havoc. The women of Kufadza also help here, calming angry residents and communicating the importance of protecting wildlife, however damaging they may be.  

Thriving wildlife means thriving ecosystems and an overall healthier environment. 

Aside from protecting the wildlife, working in this way also helps the women. It allows them to feel empowered and get out of typical roles. "A lot of women are being inspired," said Siansuna, "every time I'm out I get asked when CLZ is recruiting." 

Another member, 23-year-old Molly Ngulube, told Travel + Leisure, "As a ranger, you must believe in yourself. Gather the courage and tell yourself this: 'I'm not going to die here. If a man can do this, I can do it, too.'"

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