This spring, our friend and MUTTS guest blogger Willow Phelps attended an event for the International Anti-Poaching Foundation in New York City, where she met conservationists Damien Mander and Vimbai Kumire. Damien is the founder of the IAPF, which operates in southern and East Africa. Vimbai is the leader of the Akashinga tribe, an all-female ranger team which serves as a community-driven arm of the organization. 

Willow Phelps with members of Akashinga anti-poaching tribe
At the IAPF event in NYC, Willow met anti-poaching activists Vimbai Kumire (left) and Damien Mander (right).

By Willow Phelps

In April 2019 I was so excited to meet the brave and mighty warrior Vimbai Kumire. She flew to New York City all the way from Africa to spread the word against poaching in all countries. She is a 33-year-old single mother of two who leads the Akashinga tribe. (Akashinga means “the brave ones,” which is certainly a suitable name for these fierce female warriors.)

During the event’s Q&A session, Vimbai was asked about her experience standing up in her community to fight for animals. She answered, “I know and value myself. Before, animals were food. Now, I am passionate and I am proud to look after animals and keep them safe.”

IAPF director/founder Damien Mander also spoke at the event. He told us he was once in the Navy, and he was also a hunter — not for food, but for fun! I’m glad he is now a vegan, helping the animals instead of killing them. Today he travels around the world to speak out against poaching.

When he was first seeking volunteers for the tribe, 37 single mothers showed up for the interviews. People all over told them to back down, but they stayed strong. And thank goodness for that! The tribe is now made up of many female warriors, people willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of animals.

Every day they train in Africa, push-up by push-up, weight by weight. All this training has led them to become stronger — and to arrest over 100 poachers to date. This is a huge accomplishment and I am surely glad to have met Vimbai, one of the brave and mighty Akashinga warriors.

To learn more, check out National Geographic’s recent feature story on the Akashinga tribe or visit

About the Author: A committed vegetarian, Willow Phelps has done more for animals than most adults do in a lifetime — raising more than $15k for animals by doing runs, swims, and sewing; fostering and giving hospice care to numerous dogs and cats, and earning the title of ASPCA’s Kid of the Year (2016).

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