By Lenny Ruvaga
KAJIADO, KENYA – Kenya’s Amboseli National Park is home to herds of elephants that have been the target of poachers trafficking in the illicit trade in ivory. Now a program that has brought women on board in the fight against poaching is gaining traction.
At the start of another day at the Olgulului-Ololarashi Group Ranch, 23-year-old park ranger Purity Amleset, the leader of this all female ranger unit, sets out the day’s plan with her team, ensuring that each member has her orders correct.
Today’s task: locating an elephant and her newborn calf.
Dubbed “Team Lioness,” the ranger unit is made up of eight women whose core duties involve protecting wildlife within the 1,230 square kilometer stretch of parkland that surrounds Amboseli National Park.
They are chosen for their academic achievements, physical stamina, integrity and discipline.
Amleset says joining an all-female ranger unit has been beneficial to the traditionally patriarchal Maasai community.
She says her community held the view that women and girls were the weaker sex and that girls could only do menial jobs and housework, which included only raising a family. However over the course of time, the female rangers have been showing and telling them the importance of being a ranger just like the menfolk.
Gateway for poachers
The Olgulului-Ololarashi Group Ranch’s proximity to the Amboseli park makes it a likely gateway for poachers who may seek entry into the national park to hunt illegally.
Patrick Papatiti, the commander of the Olgululului Community Wildlife Rangers has about 76 rangers under his charge. He says integrating women has not been easy.
“We have the same mentality even within the male ranger unit, the same mentality that ladies cannot do it. But surprisingly we have the best young women who can run, who can move faster than these guys, who can go long(er) distances than these guys,” he sad. “So from that, working together helped us to clear the norm that these are the same ladies the same girls that you see in the village.”
Despite the challenges, in the end James Isiche — the regional director for East Africa from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) — says starting an all-female ranger unit was a risk worth taking.
“Communities in Kenya are male-dominated, but this particular one is extremely male-dominated,” he said. “So getting young ladies to engage in what is seen as a man’s job is a huge success and what we (are) seeing is that it’s encouraging other girls to step up and say that ‘when I finish school I also want to join the female lionesses.’”