How a Special Forces Vet Trained Local Women to Fight African Poachers

Akashinga The Brave Ones
Zimbabwe - Petronella Chigumbura with Akashinga Rangers. (Credit: National Geographic/Kim Butts, Avatar Alliance Foundation)

"Akashinga: The Brave Ones" is a remarkable documentary about a Royal Australian Navy special forces veteran who decided to put his military skills to work training an all-female unit to fight poachers in Zimbabwe.

You can watch the commercial-free premiere on the National Geographic Channel on Sunday, Nov. 8, at 10:30 pm ET/PT.

Damian Mander served as a naval clearance diver and special forces sniper and spent three years in Iraq until 2009. After completing his service, he decided that he wanted to do something to address the scourge of wild game poaching in Africa.

Mander first tried training the local men but made little progress until he realized that women were better at de-escalating conflict and less likely to accept bribes from poachers. He helped the women form a ranger unit they called Akashinga (the brave ones).

Most of these women had survived domestic abuse or were single mothers, abandoned wives or had been orphaned by AIDS. The unit's teamwork gives them a purpose and offers a way for them to process their trauma.

There have been news stories about this group over the past decade, but this is the first film dedicated to offering an up-close look at the unit and its successes.

"Akashinga: The Brave Ones" is directed by Maria Wilhelm, who made "The Game Changers" for Netflix and the Emmy-winning climate change series "Years of Living Dangerously" for Showtime. The executive producer is "Avatar," "Terminator" and "Titanic" mastermind James Cameron, who continues to use his Hollywood influence to back compelling documentary films.

If you missed the showing on NatGeo, the entire film is embedded below.

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