How 'Team Lioness' Is Fighting Poaching in Kenya
Team Lioness was established in early 2019. | Paolo Torchio/IFAW

In Amboseli National Park, a park in southern Kenya known for its clear views of Mount Kilimanjaro, eight women have been helping to protect elephants, giraffes, and other wildlife from poachers. They make up Team Lioness, an all-woman anti-poaching group of rangers who are the first in their families to secure employment.

The global conservation charity International Fund for Animal Welfare formed Team Lioness in early 2019. Kiruyan Katamboi, a Maasai community leader, challenged the group to hire more women as rangers, leading to the group’s creation. Previously, rangers were all men. They now patrol the Olugului/Olarashi Group Ranch (OOGR), part of Amboseli National Park, along with their 68 male colleagues in the Olugului Community Wildlife Rangers (OCWR).

Breaking Down Gender Barriers

The community, including the rangers themselves, were skeptical that women could get the job done at first. They occasionally face dangerous animals and humans in their line of work, which can involve 12-mile daily patrols. In co-ed groups, they speak to members of the community, noting any possible leads tried to poaching and helping animals when needed.

“Before I was thinking like I would not make it,” ranger Sharon Nankinyi told CNN. “But after we were training, then we became very strong ladies. We proved to the community that what a man can do, a woman can do better.”

COVID-19 has brought new challenges; Amboseli National Park’s revenue is down 90 percent without tourism and so, there are fewer government-funded patrols. With so many people out of work, some have turned to hunting bushmeat in order to survive. However, elephant poaching in Kenya is down 91 percent. No elephants have been killed at the Group Ranch since 2018.

“I attribute the success to dedication from rangers and how we built a very good relationship with the community, which is our source of intel,” said OCWR’s Director of Operations Patrick Papatiti.

The pandemic has also closed down schools, concerning some that it means that young women will get married earlier. Members of Team Lioness and Papatiti hope to welcome more women; its success has helped break down gender barriers in the Maasai community.

“Before, we were not allowed to speak to the men around, we are not allowed to speak to our fathers in the table, to share or to to eat supper or breakfast all together,” said Nankinyi. “We were just thinking like we are nothing to the community, we are just fit for fetching water, giving birth. But now we’ve broken the taboo that we can work with the men.”