The Akashinga: The fearless female wildlife rangers at the frontline of anti-poaching

I have a bit of an on-again off-again relationship with running, although I always find myself coming back to it. I’m not a picky runner though. I enjoy short, powerful sprints as much as long, steady Sunday runs. One constant, however, is that I almost always listen to podcasts when I’m running, or even just walking around town. Political, comical, informative, historical - nearly all genres work for me. I love learning about topics I know little about, and raising awareness in those around me. One of my longtime listens is the Rich Roll Podcast, hosted by Rich Roll, an accomplished vegan ultra-endurance athlete, former attorney turned full-time wellness advocate and all-around good guy. Rich embarks on thorough, insightful and eye-opening interviews with guests from all different backgrounds. Athletes, CEOs, NGO-founders, addiction survivors, spiritual healers, war veterans - each guest has their own, unique and fascinating story to tell.

This past weekend I caught up on Episode 419 - An Interview with Damien Mander. Damien Mander, also known as the Vegan Sniper, is a former Australian Royal Navy Clearance Diver and Special Operations Military Sniper for the Tactical Assault Group East, who went on to serve 12 tours in Iraq as a private contractor where his tasks included training the local police force in Baghdad.



After leaving the military, Mander traveled to Africa where he came face to face with a pregnant wild buffalo that had been horrendously trapped and fatally injured by poachers. Shortly thereafter in 2009, he founded the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), a community-driven anti-poaching conservation program that operates in southern and eastern Africa.

In 2017, after nearly a decade since the IAPF’s establishment, Damien decided to take an entirely new approach to anti-poaching and founded the Akashinga, the world’s first armed all-female group of wildlife rangers. While approximately 19% of the world’s wildlife rangers are women, Mander realised that they are typically confined to office jobs or positions as gate wardens. Women were rarely, if ever, seen on the frontline. The IAPF decided to carefully select and train 32 women, all of whom were either unemployed single mothers, abandoned wives, survivors of sexual and physical abuse, wives of poachers in prison, widows or orphans. The women received their training from Damien Mander himself, based on his vast, first-hand military experience. The Akashinga operate in the Phundundu Wildlife Park in the Lower Zambezi Valley in Zimbabwe, a former trophy hunting concession home to approximately 8000 elephants that continue to live in constant danger of being poached illegallyI



Mander highlights that empowering marginalised women from rural communities has had a huge positive effect not only socially but also economically. Women earning a salary in rural Africa invest up to 3 times more into their family than a man in a similar position. 62% of the operational costs of the Akashinga model go directly back to the local community. An estimated 80% of that is returned on a household level and directly into the hands of women, converting this conservation project into a profitable community project. These previously marginalised, ostracised and often abused women have become akin to local celebrities, inspiring young girls to fight for their own education and a chance to build a future for themselves.

The Akashinga model also challenges economic gain earned from trophy hunting which, across the African continent, encompasses a landmass larger than the size of France. Due to social pressure and the disappearance of large game populations as a consequence of trophy hunting, climate change and habitat loss, trophy hunting is rapidly declining and leaving many wilderness areas without sufficient income to incentivise conservation. As Mander explains in the podcast, many rural communities find it impossible to justify spending on nature conservation when they themselves have no way to put enough food on the table. The Akashinga model therefore also provides an alternative source of income to the local communities, all the while protecting their rich biodiversity and precious wildlife populations.

There’s a saying in Africa: ‘If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.’ We’re seeing increasing evidence that empowering women is one of the greatest forces of change in the world today.
— Damien Mander, International Anti-Poaching Foundation


Fighting poachers in the bush is of course not a long-term solution to the issue at large. Despite fantastic gains made in recent years, such as the percentage of poachers entering Kruger National Park from Mozambique dropping by more than half since 2014 and the population of the critically endangered black rhino increasing by 13% since 2010, the work in the bush is essentially like trying to stop a clogged sink from overflowing without actually unclogging the sink itself. In order for elephants, rhinos or any wildlife to be protected in the long term, issues such as corruption in government, economic development in Africa and market demand in Asia must be addressed. Mander himself admits that arresting poachers in the bush may help single populations in the short-term, but it does not offer a viable long-term solution.

It’s not just elephants that are at threat, either. In the past decade, the average number of poached rhinos in South Africa alone increased from 17 to 1,000 individuals annually. The total South African rhino population is around 20.000 individuals, which means that at this rate extinction will occur before today’s 1st graders turn 30. Particularly in East Asia, rhino horns (which are actually made out of the same keratin as human finger nails) are believed to cure any kind of ailment and sell for an estimated 20.000USD per pound. Illegal trade has developed into an increasingly sophisticated and multi-layered organised crime network, complete with corrupted political leaders and military-style weaponry.



The Akashinga, however, are taking matters into their own hands how and where possible. For many women it is the first time they are earning a salary, something that has allowed them to leave abusive husbands and support themselves and their children. Mander also points out that since beginning the project in late 2017, the group have made 76 arrests without firing a single shot. Anti-poaching operations have previously been violent, resembling guerrilla warfare. The Akashinga’s work, on the other hand, is based on enquiring intelligence and making calculated arrests. According to Mander, 97% of the world’s crimes are solved via intelligence, so it’s a much more sensible approach to anti-poaching operations as well.

Damien Mander has high hopes for the Akashinga, aiming to see the model expanded and adopted by others to employ approximately 4,500 female wildlife rangers patrolling more than 250,000 sq km of former hunting blocks across Africa by 2030. The project has been met with plenty of criticism, many saying that a woman’s place is not in the bush “doing a man’s job” but at home with her children. Mander, however, says that the reserve is being patrolled better than ever before - precisely by women. In addition, he highlights that the model is very easily scalable, and there’s no reason it couldn’t be adopted in other reserves in similar situations.

Mander often sites an African saying that goes: “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” Educated nations are exactly what both the world’s endangered animals species as well as many marginalised women living in rural communities need.



If you’ve made it this far, perhaps what you can do to help! An easy way to contribute to IAPF’s work is to make a donation on their homepage. As Damien Mander says: “No donation is too small, or too big.” You can also create your own fundraiser or organise an educational event (direct link currently not available). Even just spreading the world helps the movement along, so feel free to share this post or follow the IAPF or Damien Mander on social media. I also recommend checking out this super interesting read on Damien Mander written by Thayer Walker for bioGraphic.

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The Great Green Wall: Africa’s most ambitious land restoration initiative to date

Hi all! Today I wanted to talk about an extremely interesting and ambitious project that began over a decade ago, and for many represents a symbol of hope in a region severely suffering the consequences of climate change. I came across this project a few years ago and to be honest I haven’t really heard much about it since. For that exact reason I wanted to touch up on it today because I really do think it’s an important initiative tackling major climate change issues.

This project is of course The Great Green Wall, an 8.000 km long land restoration initiative stretching across the southern border of the Sahara desert, that is aiming to transform what is considered to be one of the poorest areas in the world, the Sahel region in Africa.

Great Green Wall / YouTube

The initiative began in 2007 and is led by the African Union in collaboration with 20 African nations, as well as international partners such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The project aimed to construct what would be the largest living structure on Earth, an 8000 km long and 15 km wide area of restored landscape that would span across 11 countries and the entire African continent. The project aimed to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land, sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon and create 10 million rural jobs by 2030. The total expected cost of the initiative was 8 billion USD.



A little more than a decade into the initiative and significant advances have already been made. Approximately 15% of the wall has been completed, 12 million drought resistant trees have been planted in Senegal and 15 million hectares of degraded land have been restored in Ethiopia. Five million hectares of restored land in Niger have delivered an additional 500.000 tonnes of grain per year, which is enough to feed 2,5 million people. Progress is also being made in Nigeria, where five million hectares of degraded land have been stored and Burkina Faso is not far behind with a total of three million hectares of restored land to date.

A short documentary, Growing a World Wonder (2016), follows a young Senegalese girl named Binta as she and her family tend to their section of the Great Green Wall and discuss how the project is already transforming their lives for the better. A full-length documentary on the Great Green Wall initiative is currently in the works and is to be released in 2019.



However, a lot has changed since 2007. Currently the wall isn’t aiming to be a narrow belt of planted trees that stretches across the entire southern border of the Sahara from Senegal to Djibouti. Instead, the goal is to surround the entire area of the Sahara with a wider band of trees, bushes and other vegetation. In addition, the new vision of the project includes all African countries surrounding the Sahara, not just the 11 original sub-Saharan countries located in the Sahel. What started as the “Great Green Wall” has become “Africa’s flagship initiative to combat land degradation, desertification and drought.”

The Sahel region has suffered greatly due to climate change, population growth and unsustainable land management practices. As a consequence, the area has suffered from severe food and water shortages, mass unemployment and migration, as well as serious conflicts over declining natural resources. Global warming and over-farming continue to threaten the livelihood of millions of people.

Regardless of the form it takes, the Great Green Wall initiative aims to increase food security through the restoration of fertile land, creating green jobs and giving an economic boost to small businesses and enterprises. Furthermore, it hopes to bring peace to a region struggling amid conflicts, combatting mass migration and displacement of communities.



Creating fertile land in the Sahel region means creating opportunities of employment especially for women, many of whom have been left without any economic resources in villages populated mainly by women and children. Financial security also offers young girls the opportunity to return to school. Attendance numbers in schools have in fact increased for example in Senegal, where the wall has created gardens for women to grow and sell their own crops. 

The Great Green Wall is about development; it’s about sustainable, climate-smart development, at all levels. Each of the 30 countries developed national action plans, That is the biggest achievement, because now they own it. It’s about ownership, and that has been the failure of development aid, because people were never identified with it. But this time they identify. This is our thing.
— Elvis Paul Tangam; African Union Commissioner for the Sahara and Sahel Great Green Wall Initiative

The initiative has been met with certain backlash, as some claim that it is too simple a solution to an extremely complex problem. Some critics claim that a desert is a natural ecosystem that shouldn’t be treated as a problem. Others say that the project’s ambitions are simply unrealistic. Whatever the case, it can’t be denied that desertification is a severe issue in the Sahel, and it is directly related to climate change. 45% of Africa’s population lives in drylands that are susceptible to decertification. That cannot be ignored.

Whether the Great Green Wall initiative reaches its end target is ultimately not the only measure of its success. The project has already raised awareness about the serious, tangible impacts of climate-change in an already poor region of the world. It is showing us that collaborative efforts can and will go a long way.

If you’d like to learn more about the Great Green Wall, you can visit the initiative’s website at:, follow them on Twitter, Facebook or check out their videos on YouTube.

Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored. The Great Green Wall is an initiative I came across a few years ago and felt very inspired by, so I wanted to re-visit the topic and write about it.

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Turn your lights off on March 30th for Earth Hour 2019

Mark your calendars, Earth Hour is here again!

“Healthy nature makes our life better by providing us with good food, clean air, and fresh water - but it is all under the threat of climate change and loss of biodiversity. This #EarthHour, join us on 30 March 2019 at 8:30pm local time, to switch off and speak up why nature matters.”

If you’re unfamiliar with what Earth Hour is all about, you can check out my post from last year to read all about this fantastic annual event that will be held this Saturday on March 30, 2019 at 8.30 pm (local time). Earth Hour started out as a symbolic lights out event in Sydney, Australia in 2007 and has since become the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment. Every year, millions of people take part and express their concern for the future of our planet and its limited resources.

Earth Hour is coordinated by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and various volunteer organisations, but it’s the participants who really make the event. For events near you, check out your country’s Earth Hour website and get involved!


En España, la hora del planeta se celebrará este sábado el día 23 de marzo a las 20.30h (como en todos los países del mundo). Además de apagar las luces, la WWF España anima a todo el mundo a aceptar uno, dos o tres retos que son:

#RetoDíaSinCarne: Se necesitan 15.500 litros de agua para producir un kilo de carne.
#RetoDíaSinPlástico de un solo uso: Cada año se vierten 100 millones de toneladas de plástico a la naturaleza.
#RetoDíaSinEmisiones: El transporte urbano es el causante del 30% de todas las emisiones de CO2

Personalmente, he aceptado los tres retos (un reto por día, empezando el miércoles 27) y me puedes seguir en Instagram para ver como voy avanzando. Reto a todos mis lectores a aceptar uno o más retos para despertar conciencia sobre la importancia de llevar una vida más sostenible. A veces a nivel individual es imposible hacer cambios muy fuertes de golpe, pero pequeños cambios, como utilizar menos el coche, reducir la cantidad de carne que comemos y evitar los plásticos de un solo uso, son cosas que cada uno podemos hacer en nuestro día a día.

El árbol más altanero, débil tallo fue primero.


Viime keväänä 1,5 miljoonaa suomalaista osallistui Earth Hour -tapahtumaan. Tänäkin vuonna tapahtumia järjestetään monilla eri paikkakunnilla. Jos sinun paikkakunnallasi ei järjestetä mitään, voi itse järjestää oman Earth Hour -tapahtuman! Inspiraatiota tapahtumaan voi hakea Earth Hourin nettisivuilta Ideat-osiosta. Aiotko sinä osallistua Earth Hour -tapahtumaan tänä vuonna?

Protege el Bosque Amazónico con ARBIO Peru


Hola y bienvenidos a todos mis lectores hispanohablantes! BAHIALLA es un blog cuyo objetivo es hablar de cosas cotidianas con las que podemos contribuir a un mundo más verde y más feliz. La mayoría de los posts están en inglés, pero de vez en cuando (como hoy!) escribo también en español. Para más información sobre el blog, haz clic aquí.

Hoy quería hablar de un tema que me toca el corazón: los regalos de zero residuo (también conocidos como zerowaste). Durante muchos años he sido muy fan de regalar y recibir regalos que no producen basura innecesaria. Entre otras cosas, he regalado y recibido detergentes caseros, calcetines de lana, diferentes tipos de actividades (por ejemplo entradas al cine, un día en el spa, también me he ofrecido de canguro, etc.) A veces los mejores regalos son en realidad cosas muy simples, pero que por alguna razón nunca nos regalamos.

El año pasado, cuando de nuevo estaba buscando regalos “sostenibles” para Navidad, vi un post en Facebook sobre ARBIOPeru, y su programa de apadrinar una hectárea de la selva Amazónica peruana, que actualmente está sufriendo una deforestación brutal.

Me ilusioné muchísimo encontrar esta posibilidad - era justamente lo que buscaba! Era un regalo completamente zerowaste, sumamente fácil de hacer y además contribuía a la protección y el desarrollo sostenible de nuestro precioso planeta. ARBIOPeru te ofrece la posibilidad de apadrinar una o más hectáreas de la selva Amazónica, concretamente en la zona de Madre de Díos (Perú) por tan solo 50USD/55€ al año. Una vez en la página web, puedes elegir la(s) hectárea(s) que quieres adoptar y proteger.

Los cuadritos verdes representan las hectáreas que ya están protegidas, y los rojos los que están todavía disponibles. Cómo bien se ve, aún quedan muchas hectáreas por proteger!

Los cuadritos verdes representan las hectáreas que ya están protegidas, y los rojos los que están todavía disponibles. Cómo bien se ve, aún quedan muchas hectáreas por proteger!

El proceso de adoptar tu hectárea no podría ser más fácil. Simplemente eliges la(s) hectárea(s) que te gustaría proteger, metes tus datos personales, añades la forma de pago y ya está! Como un recuerdo de la excelente decisión que has tomado para apoyar a la conservación, recibes un certificado por correo electrónico (por supuesto en PDF) que incluye tu nombre, el número de la(s) hectárea(s) adoptada(s) y el periodo de adopción (un año o más, según lo que hayas elegido).

Para celebrar y recordar tu propia hectárea de la selva Amazónica peruana, ARBIO te manda un certificado como este!

Para celebrar y recordar tu propia hectárea de la selva Amazónica peruana, ARBIO te manda un certificado como este!

Después de realizar el pago y recibir el certificado, ya puedes decirle a todo el mundo como estás contribuyendo a la protección y conservación de la selva Amazónica en Madre de Díos, Perú! Todo el proceso tarda como mucho cinco minutos (a no ser que seas como yo y tardes media hora en elegir la “hectárea perfecta”), pero así ofreces un año entero de apoyo para el gran equipo de ARBIO. Cada hectárea adoptada está nombrada según quien la ha apadrinado, y en cualquier momento puedes volver a la página web y buscar “tu hectárea”. No hace falta adoptar como individuo, sino que también se puede involucrar un equipo deportivo, los colegas del trabajo, familiares, amigos, vecinos … quien sea!

ARBIO también ofrece la posibilidad de adoptar en nombre de alguien y dárselo como regalo - que es efectivamente lo que hice yo. Entonces cuando te piden los datos personales simplemente pones los datos del destinatario. Y si recuerdo bien, también es posible programar el correo con el certificado para que llegue un día en concreto. Así puedes comprar el regalo cuando quieras y mandarlo al destinatario el día que eligas. La verdad es que es tan sencillo y gratificante como parece.

Si no te interesa la opción de apadrinar, ARBIO ofrece también la posibilidad de hacer una donación. Estas donaciones ayudan a comprar el equipo necesario para la investigación de campo, financiar un barco nuevo para navegar el río Las Piedras para llegar a la reserva de ARBIO (un viaje de aproximadamente 6 horas), la renovación del equipo de comunicación (por ejemplo los radios UHF) y muchas otras cositas necesarias para que la organización pueda seguir protegiendo al bosque Amazónico.

¿Quíen es ARBIOPeru?

ARBIOPeru es una asociación peruana sin ánimo de lucro, fundada en 2010 en Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Díos. Gestionan y cuidan 916 hectáreas de bosque amazónico en la cuenca del Río Las Piedras, y tiene como objetivo la implementación de acciones de conservación del bosque amazónico involucrando tanto el sector público como el privado. Además, la asociación está dirigida por un gran equipo de mujeres investigadoras.

El 100% de las donaciones van directamente a proyectos basados en actividades en el bosque Amazónico que protegemos desde el año 2010 en la cuenca del río Las Piedras, Tambopata, Madre de Dios, Perú. Para continuar cuidando el bosque, y lograr su conservación por más tiempo requerimos el apoyo de todos.
— ARBIO Peru

Puedes seguir el trabajo de ARBIPeru tanto en su cuenta de Instagram como a través de su blog.

Reto a todos mis lectores a apadrinar una hectárea del bosque amazónico con ARBIOPeru. Es una manera muy fácil y accesible para contribuir a la conservación de este precioso planeta. Se nos está acabando el tiempo y hay que actuar ahora. Me encantaría saber de vuestras experiencias!

Todas las fotos son de Este post no es un anuncio, sino una historia de una organización que encontré por casualidad y cuyo trabajo quiero apoyar! Este post se ha publicado también en inglés.

Protect the Amazon Rainforest with ARBIO Peru


Hello and welcome (back) to the blog! After getting BAHIALLA up and running last fall, I ended up taking a bit of a sudden and unexpected hiatus (a prolonged hibernation, if you will). But now we’re back and better than ever before. So without further ado, let’s get right into today’s topic!

For many years now I have been a fan of zero and low-waste gifts. Some of the gifts I have both given and received have included things like homemade detergents, hand-knitted socks and sweaters as well as different kinds of activities (movie nights, babysitting, spa days, etc.) Sometimes the best and most thoughtful gifts are ones that are simple enough to organise but things that for whatever reason we don’t ever treat ourselves to.

Last Christmas while I was once again in the market for sustainable gifts for my loved ones, I came across a Facebook post about ARBIO and more specifically their Amazon protection program, where you can adopt a hectare of Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, which is currently in serious danger of massive deforestation.

I was more than thrilled to find this program - it was exactly what I had been looking for! This gift ticked all the boxes: It was truly zero-waste, extremely easy to get and contributed to the sustainable protection and development of our ever so precious planet. ARBIO offers you the possibility to adopt one or more hectares of Amazon Rainforest located in Madre de Diós, Peru for just 50€/55USD per year. Once on the adoption page, you can freely choose the hectare(s) that you would like to adopt and protect.

The green boxes are hectares that are already protected and the red ones are still available. There’s still plenty of rainforest to adopt!

The green boxes are hectares that are already protected and the red ones are still available. There’s still plenty of rainforest to adopt!

The process is extremely simple. You just choose which hectare(s) you would like to protect, add your personal details, choose for how long you’d like to protect the area, add your payment information and voilà! As an added bonus and a sign (pun intended) of your commitment to protecting the extremely endangered Amazon Rainforest, you receive an electronic certificate by email that includes your name, your adopted hectare(s) and the period of time that your adoption lasts.

To celebrate your very own adopted hectare of Peruvian Amazon rainforest, ARBIO sends you this certificate!

To celebrate your very own adopted hectare of Peruvian Amazon rainforest, ARBIO sends you this certificate!

After that you’re good to go and you can tell everyone about the great things you are doing to help combat deforestation and protect the Amazon Rainforest! The entire process only takes about five minutes to complete (unless you’re picky like me and spend half an hour choosing your hectare) but offers the Peruvian rainforest an entire year of protection. Each hectare on the map is named after its adopter, so you can go back and admire your contribution at any time. You can even look around and see who else has contributed to the project. You could easily inspire your friends, colleagues, family members or sports club and adopt a hectare together.

ARBIO also offers the option of adopting the hectare(s) for someone else and giving it as a gift. In that case you just fill in the receiver’s information and e-mail address. If I remember correctly from Christmas time, you can even schedule the email with the certificate to be sent on a specific day! That’s perfect for planning your gift giving ahead of time. It really is as easy and gratifying as it sounds.

If you’re not interested in adopting a hectare, you can also make a single donation here. These donations help provide field supplies, purchase a new boat for the 6-hour ride to Arbio’s concession, renovation of equipment such as an UHF radio and many other bits and pieces that keep the organisation’s conservations efforts going.

Who is ARBIO?

ARBIO is a Peruvian non-profit that was founded in 2010 in Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Diós whose purpose is to implement forest conservation actions involving both the public and private sector. They manage 916 hectares of Amazon rainforest in the Río Las Piedras river watershed. What’s extra special is that the organisation is led by a group of kick-ass women.

Arbio is an NGO led by Peruvian women working under constant threat of deforestation. Join us to support the conservation of the Amazon rainforest!
— ARBIO Peru

You can follow ARBIO on Instagram and also on their blog.

I challenge every one of my readers to adopt a hectare of rainforest through ARBIO. You can do it by yourself, with friends/family, colleagues, neighbours or anyone else you fancy. And if you do, please do come back and let me know!

Photos courtesy of This is not a sponsored post, just an organisation I happened to come across and immediately want to support!