Once known as home to some of the rarest and unique species on the planet, the landscape in Africa is changing. Over the last 50 years, the Black Rhino population has fallen by 97.6%. Over 35,000 elephants are killed each year. Often these animals are illegally poached for a single body part that is sold for an obscene amount of money on the black market.

The ethics of big game hunting was questioned after Dr. Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minneapolis paid $50,000 as part of an illegal hunt and kill package of an adult male lion in Zimbabwe in 2015. Palmer, along with his paid guide and a local landowner lured the famous Cecil out of a wildlife sanctuary and killed him in a brutal 2-day event.

As the international community demanded a stop to trophy hunting in Africa, a new economic crisis began formed for locals in small villages that relied on the financial gain from trophy hunting to support their families. Over 20% of land in Zimbabwe is designated for trophy hunting and millions are now left with little to no options to support a growing human population. If the end of trophy-hunting is going to work, these local communities need to be able to support themselves.

Enter Damien Mander, a retired Australian special forces sniper who was concerned enough about this problem he created a unique solution, named Akashinga.

Akashinga, meaning "The Brave Ones" is a first of its kind all-female anti-poaching unit. It is not just about conversation. It is an opportunity for some of the most impoverished and vulnerable women in the world to learn valuable skills and break through the ridicule and stereotype that unemployed and abandoned single mothers, victims of abuse, orphans, and widows face daily.

Poaching of endangered species and conservation destruction have reached critical levels in Africa. Mander's belief is that investing in the strong women of Africa is the answer to creating long-term solutions for a much bigger problem than most of the world is unaware of. In order for any conservation program to grow, it will need to develop communities that once relied on profits from illegal poaching to find an alternate source of income. Empowering women in local communities by training them to work and protect their homes from poaching and destruction is crucial in the success of Akashinga.

Women who enter Manders training must past rigorous training that many men quit. They learn to be leaders and diplomats as well as how to shoot AR-15 assault rifles and the art of camouflage. All are vegan based on the principle that protecting one group of animals and coming home and eating another is unnecessary.

Akashinga: The International Anti-Poaching Foundation - iapf.org www.youtube.com

Simply banning trophy hunting and punishing those who are caught killing animals on the endangered species list will not create long-term solutions. Akashinga aims to replace trophy hunting with long term conservation of over 30 million acres of large wilderness areas in Africa in the next 10 years. Land that was once a set aside for hunting some of the most beautiful animals on the planet will be reclaimed and monitored by over 2000 women, allowing them to become independent community leaders in the years to come.

Mander's project, the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF).