The women of Scout Team Bravo, in the front row
Chantecaille is supporting a team of single mothers trained to save wildlife in Zimbabwe.
Jeska Muleyua is a 22-year-old single mom who lives in the village where she grew up in northwestern Zimbabwe. For years, she sold vegetables to her community in order to support her now three-year-old son, barely scraping by. Last year, however, she joined a boundary-breaking patrol unit in nearby Chizarira National Park, known as Scout Team Bravo. She and her fellow scouts conduct patrols inside the park, performing snare sweeps and detecting signs of illegal activity. With her earnings she is now able to support her son and is also building a house for her mother. “Before this, I didn’t know anything about myself,” Muleyua has said. “The training has taught me teamwork and discipline and shown me what I am capable of.”
The local culture in this region of Zimbabwe is highly patriarchal, with women’s work relegated mainly to growing and selling food, or cooking. But this new initiative is recruiting women from local communities to the front lines of conservation in a landscape where, following years of neglect and mismanagement, poaching had eliminated all of the rhinos and elephants are under significant poaching pressure.
The Bravo Unit was the idea of Niall McCann and Mark Hiley from National Park Rescue in Zimbabwe, who realized how an all-woman patrol unit could support their conservation work. “For conservation to be successful, the local communities must be engaged in—and benefit from—the process,” McCann says. “It has been demonstrated that women invest over 50 percent more of their salary back into their families than men do, so if you are serious about your conservation project supporting communities, hire women!”
Our longtime charity partner, Space for Giants, has supported the recruitment and training of the scouts since the beginning, as has Sylvie Chantecaille. “It is unbelievably effective to give women a chance to do a man’s job in Africa,” Sylvie says. “It gives women strength to stand on their own two feet, an income, and therefore power. It shows the community the importance of conserving wildlife as a source of income and pride. And as the money earned creates opportunities for their children and their entire family, it teaches the next generation the love and importance that wildlife offers.”
The scouts perform tests of physical strength for their community
“A DREAM COME TRUE”
Team Bravo’s four other scouts are single mothers who have likewise struggled to overcome hardship—indeed, women are more likely to be affected by poverty than men. Patient Munsaka, age 23, was orphaned as a child and raised by her grandmother. Before joining National Park Rescue, she worked in a shop and was paid a small wage, but it was not enough to care for her grandmother and son Elton, now 3. Becoming a scout changed her life completely, as she has built a new hut for her grandmother and intends to build another for herself. "It is a dream come true, and I hope to work protecting wildlife for the rest of my life," Munsaka says.
Indeed, through their training, the women have also quickly come to understand the critical role they play in conserving endangered species. “The best thing about my job is protecting wild animals,” says 23-year-old Scout and mom of one Siphathiwe Muleya. “There must be animals in our children’s future,” adds Anita Mudenda, 19, who has a two-year-old daughter named Princess. "My daughter wants to be like me."
Becoming a scout requires weeks of training. Team Bravo does regular intensive physical exercise, both long distance runs and circuits using weights made by the National Park Rescue staff out of concrete and scrap metal. They train in first aid to be prepared for all types of scenarios in the bush, from snake bites and animal attacks to vehicle accidents. They also learn navigation and map reading and as well as “field craft,” or operations intelligence for patrols, and the use of service radios.
To support their training—and in honor of International Women’s Day 2021—Chantecaille is pledging to donate uniforms, boots, and first aid equipment to the team for one year, helping to ensure that the scouts can continue to be effective and ultimately serve as role models for additional all-female teams that Space for Giants plans to fund in countries where they operate.
Left: The scouts on patrol; Lip Veil, which supports Space for Giants
“It is unbelievably effective to give women a chance to do a man’s job in Africa. It gives them strength to stand on their own two feet, an income, and therefore power.”
THE TIP OF THE SPEAR
Team Bravo is already demonstrating how effective women can be in this traditionally male-dominated profession, drawing on their skills and community relationships in the fight against poaching and trafficking.
“The scouts are great at their jobs, removing significant numbers of snares and arresting poachers and traffickers,” McCann says. “But for me the biggest impact they have had is something we haven’t yet been able to quantify: the amelioration of relations between the communities and the park.” The work of the recently formed ranger team has coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a huge rise in poaching in many parts of Africa. “But not in our park,” McCann says. While there are many explanations for this, he is convinced that the integration with the neighboring communities has reduced the incentives to poach, adding, "The female scouts are the ‘tip of the spear’ of this integration effort.”