Akashinga: The Brave Ones comes National Geographic this weekend

Akashinga: The Brave Ones Executive produced by three-time Academy Award winner James Cameron and directed by Maria Wilhelm, executive director of the Avatar Alliance Foundation, will premiere on Sunday.

The film tells the story of Akashinga, the all-female anti-poaching unit in Zimbabwe that is facing down poachers, saving wildlife and reshaping the future of conservation.

Akashinga: The Brave Ones premiered in April at the EarthXFilm Festival to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and was launched online for World Elephant Day in August.

The award-winning documentary short was an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival and the American Film Institute, and will be National Geographic’s featured selection at Wildscreen.

With many of Africa’s key species, including elephants, reaching levels near extinction, Akashinga is a radical, new and highly effective weapon against poaching.

Founded by Damien Mander, former Australian special forces soldier and Iraq war veteran, the women-only team of rangers, drawn from the abused and marginalised, is revolutionising the way animals are protected and communities are empowered — and its members’ own lives are being transformed.

Mander’s innovative approach to conservation calls for community buy-in rather than full on armed assault against poachers: if a community understands the economic benefits of preserving animals, then it will eliminate poaching without an armed struggle. This short film is a celebration of the courage, conservation and unorthodox thinking that is leading to massive positive change.

Akashinga is more crucial now than ever: As the global pandemic crisis, COVID-19 rages on and resources become increasingly scarce, wildlife have become especially vulnerable to poachers.

“The illegal trafficking of wildlife is one of the world’s largest criminal industries, linked to terrorism and, some evidence suggests, to the pandemic we are struggling to stop,” said Mander, founder and CEO of nonprofit, the International Anti-Poaching Foundation.

“Wildlife trafficking must be stopped at the source. This is the job of wildlife rangers like the Akashinga. They are the first and last line of defence not just for nature, but also for humanity.”

“To my many friends in Australia and New Zealand, while we battle with an invisible and increasingly powerful viral enemy, the poaching wars rage on,” said executive producer James Cameron. “

“The Akashinga are front-line warriors — fiercely committed to protecting Africa’s most vulnerable species and to securing a positive future for their communities. They fight to ensure nature and ultimately humanity wins.”

“At a time when we need to be brave, the proud and courageous women of Akashinga have lessons to teach us all — about the unique power of sisterhood, the importance of collaboration and the essential nature of community,” said Maria Wilhelm, director of Akashinga: The Brave Ones . The question is whether we are willing to learn the lessons they have to teach.”

“For more than 132 years, National Geographic has been a steward of this planet,” said Carolyn Bernstein, Executive Vice President of Global Scripted Content and Documentary Films at National Geographic.

“We are honoured to partner with our friend and National Geographic Explorer James Cameron to shine a light on the Akashinga, the brave women on the front lines of the poaching crisis, who are transforming their communities and changing the face of conservation.”

The doc short is produced by Kim Butts, Drew Pulley and Maria Wilhelm; it is executive produced by James Cameron and within record-breaking time hit 1.4 million views on YouTube.

The film will be broadcast at 8:30pm on National Geographic  October 4 as part of World Animal Day, and also be made available as Video On Demand,