The woman risking her life to save Africa’s elephants


The Guardian

Date Published

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As the first woman to head the intelligence and investigations unit of the department of national parks and wildlife Zambia (DNPW), Georgina Kamanga fights daily to protect endangered animals, often risking both economic and personal safety to do so.

What led you to this line of work?

My passion for wildlife conservation started at an early age. I am an indigenous person from chief Kakumbi’s area, one of the chiefdoms on the periphery of the South Luangwa. As a young girl I witnessed a number of incidents where poachers from my community would kill animals in the surrounding areas. Back then, the DNPW intelligence was very thin on the ground and could not come into our area to see how the animals were being killed.

During my early school years I joined the Chongololo clubs to try and pioneer wildlife crime prevention sensitisation programmes.

When I completed my senior secondary education I was offered a place at the University of Zambia in the school of law. I declined that offer and joined the Norad-funded Luangwa integrated resource development project (LIRDP) as a law enforcement and evaluation officer.

I went on to study wildlife management at Mweka College of African Wildlife Management in Tanzania, to equip myself and broaden my scope in the fight against wildlife crimes in Zambia. After I graduated from the college I began working as an investigation officer in intelligence and investigations unit. I was later promoted to the rank of senior investigations officer, administration and intelligence operations.

Why do you think it is important for women to be involved?

When the DNPW was established in 1952, the authorities overlooked the involvement of women in the fight against wildlife crimes. All the vacancies for wildlife scouts and managers were reserved for men. It wasn’t until 1988 that the department decided on a trial basis to recruit a female officer who did exemplary work.

The intelligence and investigations unit was created in 1995. Like the DNPW in 1952, it was dominated by men. When I joined the unit it was so easy for us to penetrate most of the syndicates as many criminals were more inclined to discuss matters with women than they were with men. The statistics in Zambia have shown that women are more proactive, reliable and less corrupt. Women are often mothers who understand the perils of giving birth, and the loss that’s associated with such illegal activities.

What is the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part of my job has been organising the logistics of intelligence and investigations operations at extremely short notice.

The fight against poachers has become so complicated due to rampant poaching and trafficking of ivory and pangolin. The other drawback has been a lack of surveillance equipment.

What do you find the most fulfilling?

What I find most fulfilling is the amount of external support that we receive from the wildlife crime prevention project from Vulcan and the Wildcat foundation. It shows that the unit is not fighting wildlife crime alone. And when we conduct a successful operation, that just makes my world go round.

What was the most memorable part of filming The Ivory Game?

The most memorable part of filming for me was the moment when we busted in at the house of the most wanted Congolese ivory dealer in Lusaka and found the suspects red-handed. That was the climax of my career.

What obstacles have you faced as a woman fighting wildlife crime?

The job is demanding and requires me to be on call 24/7. I’ve had to organise a team at midnight in a very short amount of time so that we could conduct an urgent operation. Getting a team together at that time was a nightmare. As a result I established a rapid response team. This special elite unit is on call 24/7. It has made it easier to get officers together at short notice as they are always on standby.

What advice would you give women interested in an anti-poaching career?

My job is very thought-provoking and challenging. It requires a person who is focused, a fast thinker, someone who is social but firm. I ask women to take up this challenge. Women should not look at themselves as women in a male-dominated industry; they have the capacity to do much more than men.