The Women Fighting for the Voiceless
In all parts of the world, women are being the voice for those that don’t have one. Animals are being poached and trafficked on a daily basis throughout the world; in this article we will primarily focus on Africa. Animals are a critical part of ecosystems and the loss of any species can affect the environment in dramatic ways. This drastic reduction in their population earns them a place on the CITES Red List. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Red List is an agreement with different countries governments created to ensure the protection of wild animals and plants during international trade and to make certain that it would not endanger their survival. If poachers and traffickers continue to kill and trade animal parts for commercial gain, these animals will soon be gone forever. However, women throughout the world, against much criticism, are making great efforts and are successfully helping to preserve these animals for generations to come.
Animals are trafficked for many reasons. Some of the most common reasons are for food, clothing, ivory, medicine, sacrifices, zoos, to be kept as pets, and for trophy hunting. Many of the animals being trafficked or poached include rhinos, elephants, monkeys, tigers, lions, sea turtles, gorillas, pangolins, and blue whales. Unfortunately, poaching and animal trafficking has been a common practice for many years. Advocates for animal welfare have tried to stop or minimize the poaching and trafficking of these important animals, however, they are not always successful in their goal. It still occurs often and is a billion dollar business. Historically, most of the efforts to stop these practices have been by men as it is dangerous work that requires bravery, physical strength and endurance, traits traditionally associated with men. Some men also didn’t believe women were capable, and therefore they were never given the opportunity. However, in recent years, women are becoming trained and equipped with the skills to arrest poachers and traffickers and are being even more successful than their male counterparts. Long term solutions to end animal poaching and trafficking include winning the hearts and minds of those in nearby communities; and women are proving to be more effective at accomplishing that than the men they stand next to in their field.
Women Rangers Fighting for Wildlife
The Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Team
The all-female Black Mamba anti-poaching team of three along with twenty other local women in South Africa is fighting to save the lives of elephants and rhinos in the Balule Private Game Reserve. These women routinely scan the reserve’s 100,000 acres from dawn to dusk each day looking to arrest anyone suspected of trafficking. They have successfully reduced the poaching and trafficking of these animals by 76% since beginning their non-profit, Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Team, and have gained global recognition for their efforts.
The Virunga Rangers
In the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 28 local women are working as full-time rangers to prevent the endangered gorillas from being poached. These women guide visitors to see the gorillas safely in their environment and makes sure no one brings harm to the animals. This is a very risky job with 160 rangers killed since 1996, however, this does not stop these women. Their efforts are making a monumental difference in the conservation world.
Another group of rangers in Zambia are working together to protect more than 100 different species of animals. This small group of three women and about forty-five men are working to protect the many animals in their park. The living circumstances and equipment these rangers use are in terrible conditions; however, because of their passion for saving animals and need to provide for their families, these women stick through it and are making a difference in the lives of many.
A group of women in Zimbabwe are working together to protect a large group of elephants. These women are sacrificing their safety and time with their family to work as a group to protect these beautiful animals. They are changing the face of conservation and are inspiring many individuals throughout the world.
Some women are the only female working together with men in anti-poaching efforts. Sidonie Asseme went through ranger training by the World Wildlife Fund where she learned how to read maps, global positioning and tracking technologies. After completing that training, she moved to a small town in Cameroon where she was trained and recruited to work as a wildlife ranger to participate in different anti-poaching operations and to teach the locals about the environment. She and the men around her are making successful efforts at protecting the endangered species in Cameroon.
Another person making an enormous difference is Sangay Wangmo who has spent 13 years of her life as a ranger dedicated to protecting the tigers and their habitats in Bhutan, a small country in the Himalayas. She used to lead a group of 30 rangers and is now a Senior Forest Officer in the Sarpang Forest Division of Southern Bhutan and is highly recognized and respected. She has inspired her own daughter and locals to make a change and protect the wildlife in their own country.
Many of the women attempting to start working as rangers to fight against traffickers are not taken seriously by others. These women are told that the work is not for them and that it is a man’s job because they are stronger and women should be doing a woman’s job. However, women are making it through the training successfully and are successfully locking up the men and women in the cruel industry.
However, this success comes at a cost. Some of the brave women are single mothers who had to make the difficult decision to leave their children and relatives behind to work long hours and spend days away from home. This is not easy for them but their passion for animals and need to provide for their family is paramount. Many say that if they stayed at home with their children, the family would not have what it needs, and would rather provide them with food, clothing and an education.
These women also sacrifice their health and wellbeing. They put their lives at risk each day by the possibility of getting shot or by dying in poor living conditions. When out working, many are given very little to survive on. Some are given only one tent and one uniform to last them the whole year. As they travel these items get dirty, ripped and damaged which in turn lets water and cold weather in when raining. This can increase their risk for pneumonia and other illnesses dramatically.
In a field where men dominate, women are showing determination in their mission to save animals from becoming extinct and they are proving their value in this field to themselves as well as others. They are not only keeping up with the men but are surpassing them in some instances, changing the perceptions about gender. Their courage is inspiring to their family and those hearing their stories. They are sacrificing time spent with their family, enduring criticism and risking their lives working as a ranger. However, the positive results of their work are motivating them to continue and they will not cease until poaching and animal trafficking is a thing of the past.
Sources: BBC World News, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the Guardian News and Media, National Geographic Partners, One Green Planet, World Wide Fund for Nature, World Wildlife Fund