On 21st September 2019, Segera Retreat witnessed a colourful passing-out parade of 12 ladies from the surrounding communities who had been training for the past six months to be East and Central Africa’s first all-female anti-poaching and conservation ranger unit. The women who are all mothers, some with little education, form the first unit of its kind in this region after the success stories of the Black Mambas and Akashinga Rangers in Southern Africa. The ceremony was graced by, among others, Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary, Najib Balala, the founder of Segera and the Zeitz Foundation, Jochen Zeitz, and the Segera community.
CS Balala thanked Jochen Zeitz and the Zeitz Foundation for providing financial support for the establishment of the unit and said it was clear that women can protect the environment just as well as men and all that they need is support and opportunity.
“The training of the 12 female rangers who we are about to see pass-out today is a testament that women can also thrive in this male dominated industry,” said CS Balala at the occasion. “I challenge other conservancies to emulate them so that more women are recruited in such academies”
“Education, women empowerment, community engagement and conservation are some of the pillars of the Zeitz Foundation and Segera. The Ranger Initiative and Academy is just one example of how we can create employment, sustainable income as well as encourage women empowerment,” said Mr Zeitz. “In communities that have coexisted with wildlife for generations, women are natural custodians of the environment and astute managers of resources due to traditional responsibilities of providing for their families,” he added.
The ladies underwent tough training in different parts of the country and demonstrated some of their acquired skills to the audience. These included self-defense, intelligence gathering, map reading, tracking, communication, mission planning and execution, first aid and community outreach.
Virginia Senteiya, one of the rangers, said that women should be given equal opportunities with men and that the unit has proven that conservation is no longer a man’s world. She challenged the head of security not to send the women on joint patrols with their male colleaguesbecause both parties are equally well trained.
Damaris Ngini, a mother of two who dropped out of school in class two thanked the Zeitz Foundation for giving her the opportunity in spite of her modest education background.
“I was doing menial jobs around the Segera area and had no say in my community because it is said that women are only good at raising families and tending to our livestock. I now have an opportunity to give back to society and my kids will have a chance at a better life,” Damaris said. The confidence the ladies had could not go unnoticed from the way they presented themselves, spoke, did their drills and handled the attention they were getting from guests and family members.
“I saw the interview videos way back in April and I can’t believe the progression the ladies have made. They were unsure, intimidated, some looked outright scared but now they are confident, can express themselves better and are ready to mix it up with the male ranger team due to the good training they got,” Jochen Zeitz said.
Their trainer, Shane Sargeant, is a former French Foreign Legion Paratrooper, British Parachute Regiment, Special Forces and 22 SAS member and has been training rangers for 30 years. For this intense course for the ladies, Shane was reliant on his military background but also used yoga and meditation which he has himself been practising for 18 years. The selection process lasted for 10 days and what he was looking for was inner strength, self-discipline and an ability to learn regardless of the educational background.
A new chapter is slowly being written in Laikipia’s conservation effort and it is great to see that local women will be playing a key and direct role unbridled by cultural practices and traditions.