Inclusive Conservation: Zambia's All-Female Conservation Squad
Conservation Lower Zambezi (CLZ) is challenging the gender imbalance in wildlife conservation by creating the first all-female anti-poaching unit in Zambia. Located in the Lower Zambezi national park, the squad, known as Kufadza, not only combats poaching but also manages human-wildlife conflict in surrounding areas. The formation of Kufadza was prompted by the realization that women, who interact with wildlife daily, were underrepresented in conservation efforts.
The process of forming Kufadza involved inviting applications from women in local villages and towns. Out of the 500 who responded, 96 were selected for fitness tests, including a challenging 5km run. Eventually, eight women were chosen to form the pioneering squad, which translates to "inspire" in the local language.
The women of Kufadza undergo intense training to prepare for their roles in protecting wildlife. Stella Siansuna, a former house help who had never participated in sports, found the training particularly challenging. However, her determination and progression through the ranks have made her fearless and passionate about her role.
Kufadza is not just about gender equality; it's about selecting the most suitable individuals for the job. Women have proven to be effective in challenging poachers and miners, as well as resolving conflicts between humans and animals. They engage with local communities to communicate the importance of wildlife conservation, addressing the challenges of living near unfenced parks.
CLZ's goal is for women in Kufadza to transition into specialist units or join the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, where they can benefit from a government salary and pension. This turnover also allows for the recruitment of new female scouts, ensuring a continuous cycle of empowerment and conservation efforts.
The success of Kufadza can be seen in the declining number of elephant poaching cases since the establishment of the K9 unit in 2016. In 2022, only 10 elephants were poached, compared to 58 in 2016. The squad has also contributed to the protection of the park from illegal fishing and gold mining.
By actively involving women in wildlife conservation, CLZ hopes to inspire and empower more women to join the cause. The creation of Kufadza demonstrates the importance of diverse perspectives and the pivotal role women can play in protecting threatened species and their habitats.