We would encourage all of you to read through this entire blog. You will be amazed at what is taking place right now in our beloved Zimbabwe.
We were vacationing in Italy when I received word of Cecil’s slaughter three years ago this week. Having spent time with Pamela filming and photographing Cecil a year earlier, I was devastated. I couldn’t bring myself to share this horrible news with Pamela until we returned home later in the week. Our world, our lives have not been the same since.
What was it about THIS lion? After all, we saw dozens of lions during our time in Zimbabwe and Botswana that August. What was it about this lion named Cecil that caused the igniting of a global firestorm?
In retrospect, Cecil was not so much a lion as a galvanizing symbol of all that is wrong with Human Greed. The kind of greed that would have a convicted poacher feel that this lion should belong to HIM alone, and that the thousands who came to see Cecil every year should… well, they should just understand. The kind of greed that deforests wide swaths of land with no concern for the effect on the land or the generations to follow. The kind of greed that uses our oceans as dumping grounds resulting in massive floating garbage drifts the size of states. The kind of greed that mass fishes sharks for their fins alone, without a care for the horrific destabilization of fish and mammal populations taking place in their wake. The kind of greed that runs pipelines through sacred tribal land, not only stomping on the legal rights of those who have the greatest love for our Earth Mother, but doing it for nothing more than profit. Greed. This is what made Cecil an icon. The flat out rejection of and revulsion over global Human Greed.
At times, this Human Greed overwhelms us. We admit to you, our Community and friends, that it can be a struggle to keep posting, keep fighting, keep our cause up to date and relevant. And just when we think that fatigue might be getting the better of us…
… We meet Damian Marder. Damian was Australian military, not because he was a patriot but because he was an adrenaline junkie. Having completed his time in the military he headed off for some more adventure… in Iraq… as a sniper. As he describes it, his mercenary experiences in Iraq really turned him on his head. Leaving Iraq, he didn’t imagine he’d be in high demand in the civilian world as someone who “got paid to shoot people in the face from a mile away”. South America was next but nothing there held his interest for very long and so he decided to move on to Africa.
We met Damian at a fund raiser this past Friday evening for the group he founded, the International Anti-Poaching Foundation ( https://www.iapf.org/ ). What he has done since arriving in Africa is nothing short of mind blowing. And inspiring beyond comprehension. And game changing. The IAPF and other like groups typically recruit men from all over the region to sign up. One of the biggest problems facing these groups is the corruption that easy money brings and the lack of loyalty or any sense of belonging to the far flung regions in which they serve. Too often, those paid to guard the animals and capture the criminals found it impossible to turn down the easy money they could make from looking the other way. Damian came up with a different approach.
~ He would recruit women.
~ And he would train them to be warriors.
~ The all-female Akashinga Group (“The Brave Ones”) was born.
Not women from far and wide but women from the local villages, who have a sense of belonging to the land and would understand the need to protect the magnificent animals who migrated through their region. He did not believe that these women would be so easily corrupted and he had very good reasons to believe so.
Many of the women he recruited were the victims of rape, domestic violence and abandonment, left as single mothers to raise the children born from the rapes and abuse. Damian decided to elevate them, give them a greater purpose and turn them into protectors. As one so poignantly stated after completing her training and joining the group, “I know that I am someone now.”
180 men came to Damian to spend three days in intensive training akin to what one would receive in the Special Forces. After three days… only 3 men remained. 70 women applied or were recruited and after three days of going through the same training … only 3 had left. Clearly, Damian was on to something. And so the Akashinga Group was born and is now ferociously protecting the wildlife of their villages and regions. “If you hurt one of my animals, I will catch you!” said one member. Unlike the men who are sent off two weeks at a time to patrol, the women are more like beat cops patrolling their own regions and returning home at night or in the morning to care for their families. Now patrolling the Lower Zambezi region of Zimbabwe, we know that the animals in that area will now be better protected from hunters, poachers and those snaring animals for the illegal meat trade.
Damian has empowered them to see more of themselves than they may ever have seen as single mothers or abused wives. These goddess warriors are part of a movement that will expand and continue to make extraordinarily important arrests.
We here at the Cecil pages will be announcing an initiative very shortly that will involve a number of different ways that we can support Damian in his efforts and these amazing women in theirs. Because when you take a “changed man”, let him find his way into empowering women, and see women changing their own lives through opportunities presented, it is impossible not to want to work with them to make sure that they grow and expand. And work with them we will.
We think that we owe it to Cecil, whose own pride was cared for by three of the most tenacious females ever to walk the earth, to bring energy and light and support to these brave women.
Just as Cecil was a game changer at the exact moment the world was ready to say “ENOUGH!” we believe these women are a game changer. And at the exact moment that the “Time’s Up” and “#metoo” movements are lifting women up to join together and forcing men to understand the role that women WILL play in leveling the playing field. With every ounce of conviction we can muster, we feel it is our obligation to support this group. Please stand by as we develop a program WITH them, not for them, to recognize that it is the women who will be the saviors of our beautiful wildlife. It is our responsibility to give them whatever they need to do it. Three years later, the game has changed…
With love and resolve,
Mark, Pamela, Paula and Cecil the Puppy