The International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting endangered wildlife species across the world, has recently launched a new program with a special name: Akashinga.

Akashinga, meaning “brave ones,” is a revolutionary project designed to provide disadvantaged women in Zimbabwe with meaningful employment as wildlife rangers and managers. The women in the program come from checkered backgrounds: some once gained income through trophy hunting, and many more are either orphans or widows, victims of violence or unemployed wives of imprisoned poachers.

Now, IAPF is providing these women and their communities with an alternative to killing — conserving.

The first Akashinga project is underway now, with 35 women enrolled who are responsible for protecting an entire nature reserve.

The women in the program receive the same law enforcement training and fulfill the same role as male rangers. Their training includes studying leadership skills, unarmed combat, patrolling, camouflage and concealment, first aid, dangerous wildlife awareness, human rights, crime scene preservation, firearm safety and conservation ethics.

IAPF’s goal is to expand the program to include 2,000 of these women warriors across a span of 30 million African acres by the year 2030.

Women’s empowerment is one of the most potent tools for improving the world. The Akashinga project provides many benefits, not only for the women involved, but for biodiversity, communities, and, ultimately, the entire planet.

Over 70 percent of the operating costs go directly back into the hands of the communities involved. This approach, which invests the power of conservation in the local population, ensures that people have the power to nurture the land they call their own.

Some of the world’s most beautiful and iconic animals are close to extinction due to illegal poaching. Elephants, rhinoceroses, big cats, and others are critically endangered, but with IAPF and their Akashinga rangers on the move, the game is changing and Africa’s wildlife and women are harnessing a powerful comeback.

The pilot program began with Stage 1, with 16 women, and has expanded to include 35 in Stage 2. Supporters everywhere are excited to see this program grow across Africa, as wildlife and communities flourish under the protection and leadership of powerful women.