The plan was to sleep for a couple of hours before night patrol. As I lay on the hard ground, alone in a small tent, it dawned on me that I was completely and utterly out of my comfort zone in this environment. These rangers were my lifeline. Without them, I was a dead woman.
"Wake up Holly, we are going out on patrol." I quickly pulled on my boots. As we left camp, we resumed our positions in line and moved slowly into the darkness. We sat on the ground, waiting and looking our for poachers; torch lights. Alter a few minutes, one of the rangers whispered, "We are going to retreat because that noise is one of the most dangerous snakes in the bush and it is not far away." I gulped. We made our way back to the camp. I opened the tent zip enough to see the starry night sky. The strange noises coupled with the intense energy of the bush made me fell more alive than ever.
At 6am, I awoke feeling relieved to have survived the night. I was instructed to wear an Akashinga uniform to blend in better in the bush. During our six-hour patrol we dismantled snares and recorded the location of several elephant herds. The heat was sweltering.
This was just two days in the life of an Akashinga ranger. These courageous women are doing such valuable but often challenging work and making a real difference. The thought of the African bush devoid of elephants is heart-breaking enough but putting emotion aside, the impact of losing these animals will be to the extreme detriment of the environment and beyond. Elephants are a keystone species and important ecosystem engineers. If they go extinct, entire ecosystems could follow, but for now these women – the face of conservation – are here to do their best to stop this happening.